Hospitals Turn to Farm-Fresh Food for Better Health
Hospital food is not known for being tasty or even healthy for you. But some US hospitals are teaming up with farms to change that. You probably think of hospital food as prepackaged, bland, and colorless—except for jellies, of course. Maybe you brought a friend or relative a soup or a sandwich to their hospital room because the place where you most expect healthy food is one of the places where you can least get it. So you might be surprised to know that some hospitals are teaming up with local farms to offer healthier and tastier food. Some even have their own farm on campus.
“Patients are at the center of everything we do,” says Diaz. “I know I’m not a doctor or a nurse standing next to a patient, but I want to give everyone in our care the healthiest choice.” Diaz and others prove it’s possible to provide patients with healthy meals as well as help local manufacturers at the same time.
Predicting what will be on the plates
Diaz and his team serve 1,530 meals per day to patients and more than 4,000 meals in retail outlets. Diaz puts his “boots on the ground of every farm we buy from to make sure it’s a real place” and then uses a local distributor for pickup and delivery.
“Every day we receive two pallets of products. It’s about 2,000 pounds or 1 ton,” says Diaz. “When we say we eat a ton of food a day, we literally mean a ton of food a day.”
That means local tomatoes in salads, local peaches for dessert, black beans, which becomes the fiber-rich side for Tuesday tacos, and black bean vinaigrette, which keeps salad dressing low in sugar but high in flavor profile.
“When we can tell a local grower, ‘This is what we need for next year’s asparagus’, we remove the risk for the farmer because he now knows he has a buyer and knows how much he is going to get per acre. . Diaz says. “And we have kept this crop in the region.”
John Muir Medical Centers, Concord and Walnut Creek, California
More than half of the products that John Muir Medical Centers serve to patients and visitors – 60% – come from California. And 50% of that amount comes from farms within a 150-mile radius.
“Hospitals don’t want people to get sick,” says Steve del Masso, president of Bay Cities Produce Co. At the same time, there are food safety concerns. I think we are a good mediator.”
For patients, this means that roasted vegetables or carrots in carrot-ginger soup come fresh from farms, not from freezer bags.
“Our breakfast cereal contains local red oranges. We serve local zucchini, seasonal Brentwood corn, and up to four specialty salads a day, depending on what’s fresh and local,” Davilla says. “Our bestseller is a steak salad with arugula, endive, peppers, fries, and chopped onions.”
Deaver Health Farm at Lankenau Medical Center, Wynnewood, PA
Built on a former golf course, the 98-acre Lankenau Medical Center campus includes a 2-acre farm right across the street from the emergency room.
Since 2016, Deaver Wellness Farm has produced over 13,000 pounds of onions, herbs, tomatoes, melons, beans, and peas.
“Whatever you can grow, we will grow,” says Phil Robinson, president of Lankenau Medical Center.
Education is a big part of programming. Schoolchildren visit a farm to learn about food that doesn’t come out of a package or bag. Food insecure patients – those who don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables – talk to a nutritionist about foods and recipes. They then have fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to their homes.
“If you just patch them up and send them back to where they came from, you won’t be doing much good,” Robinson says. “If we are really going to make a difference and improve the health of our patients, it has to happen outside the four walls of this hospital.”
Sky Farm Education Center at Eskenazi Health, Indianapolis
All of the 3,000+ pounds of produce harvested from Sky Farm at Eskenazi Health each year end up in free food and nutrition classes. It helps patients in all Eskenazi departments, especially those with diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions, learn to control and even reverse their condition.
Class topics include Lifestyle Medicine, Pursuit of Strength: Cooking Matters, Fresh Vegetarian Fridays, and What Can I Eat?
Rooftop Farm at Boston Medical Center, Boston
Zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, radishes, and herbs are just some of the crops that grow every year on the rooftop farm at Boston Medical Center.
More than 5,000 pounds of farm produce is used in hospital canteens, patient meals, demonstration kitchens, and the center’s preventive nutrition pantry, which provides nutritious food for those who cannot afford it.
Stony Brook University Hospital, Stony Brook, New York
The micro-farm on the third floor of the Stony Brook Medicine Health Sciences Center has over 2,000 square feet of garden space that grows fresh fruits and vegetables used to feed patients.
Their farm-to-bed concept often includes a tent card on a tray to let patients know that some of their food was farm-harvested.
St. Luke’s University Health Network, various Pennsylvania cities
Through a partnership with the Rodale Institute, St. Luke’s University Health Network has the St. Luke-Rodale Institute Organic Farm, 8 acres of crops that supply all 12 hospitals in their network with 100 certified organic, chemical-free products.
Everything from salad greens, broccoli, and peppers to Swiss chard, garlic, beets, and herbs are included in the meals for patients, visitors, and staff and are available for purchase at local farmers’ markets at various hospitals.