Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Video: Finding a Cure for Hospital Food

When you think about hospital food, the last thing that likely comes to mind is healthy, fresh, delicious food. It's probably something closer to this: mushy, tasteless mystery meats and veggies, pureed beyond recognition. Isn't it ironic that in the very place you go to get well, the food they serve could be so very bad?

But things are changing...at least they are at the University of Virginia Hospital. Together, Local Food Hub and UVA Health Systems (the department that handles food purchasing) have created a unique partnership that is both improving hospital food and supporting local family farms.

Feeding the Change
UVA Health Systems Purchasing Manager Dale Haskins is a personal believer in local food and is a major part of why the hospital has become one of the Local Food Hub’s most successful buyers. With an annual budget of around $600,000 dedicated solely to purchasing produce, Haskins has made a great effort to keep much of that spending local by buying directly from the Local Food Hub.

On any given day, the hospital serves food to all of its patients, 125 children in a day-care program, 225 ‘meals on wheels,’ and operates a full-service cafeteria for staff and visitors.  Produce from Local Food Hub often makes the menu whether through the use of local tomatoes, onions, squash, green peppers or whatever happens to be fresh and in season that day.  Patrons swear that the the food tastes fresher than it used to, and have even marveled about eating the “best tomatoes” they’ve ever had.  In a hospital, no less.  Can you believe it?!

In addition, the hospital also hosts a weekly indoor farmer's market open to anyone passing through,  including staff, visitors, and patients.  The tables are piled high with fresh, local offerings provided by Local Food Hub and sourced from small family farms surrounding Charlottesville.  

Making it Work
Large institutional buyers and small local farms haven't always been able to play nicely.  Often, big businesses can't (or won't) source produce from many individual farms when they can purchase everything from one conventional produce supplier.  And small farms face insurmountable barriers like liability insurance requirements and accounting challenges that prevent them from accessing these markets in the first place. 

Local Food Hub helps to connect buyers and farmers in a way that benefits both.  By purchasing food from local farms for a fair price, and then selling and distributing to institutions, restaurants and markets, Local Food Hub has created "one number to call" for local food while also supplying the required liability insurance, traceability, and refrigerated delivery.

When large buyers like UVA Hospital keep their spending local, it can have a big impact on the economy. According to a recent report by the Wallace Center and the BALLE, every dollar spent at a local business can have two to four times the economic impact of a dollar spent on a non-local business by generating jobs, income and wealth.

Supporting local farmers has been one of the best takeaways from this partnership, and it is at the core of what the Local Food Hub strives to accomplish. Alan Moore, head of sales at Local Food Hub raved about working with Dale and the hospital. “It has been a pleasure seeing firsthand how UVA Hospital really believes in supporting its local community and has been such a steadfast supporter of the Local Food Hub,” Moore said.

Not only has the partnership between UVA Health Systems and Local Food Hub been successful, it's also providing a model for how large institutions can move away from imported, industrialized vegetables and towards a sustainable, healthy local food economy that benefits patients, farmers and the community alike.

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