NEWARK, NJ — Basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson is giving a big assist to a Newark hospital’s efforts to promote healthy eating.

On Thursday, Johnson summoned some of his star power from his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers, visiting Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in an effort to help shine some light on the hospital’s initiatives in the community, which is located near an area some consider a “food desert.”

Johnson – the CEO of food management company SodexoMAGIC – praised the corporation’s recent partnership with Newark Beth Israel. The team-up, which kicked off last year, makes use of a hospital-run, hydroponic greenhouse that produces more than 5,000 pounds of vegetables and greenery every year.

Together, SodexoMAGIC and Newark Beth Israel have made big changes in the employee cafeteria, where fresh veggies from the greenhouse are worked into the menu. In addition, the employee cafeteria no longer sells soda or sugary beverages, and no longer offers fried food.

The “Beth Greenhouse,” as it’s been dubbed, also educates residents about healthy eating and contributes to the community in other ways, such as hosting job training opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Produce grown at the greenhouse is sold at the weekly Beth Farmer’s Market, which sets up in the hospital lobby and accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Running a greenhouse in the middle of New Jersey’s largest city is just one way the hospital is trying to encourage healthy habits.

A decade ago, the hospital opened the Beth Fitness Center and launched its award-winning Beth Challenge, a worksite wellness program that has helped more than 3,000 employees lose a total of 13,000 pounds.

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