Local food has become a priority for individuals and institutions across the country as people are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from.
Consistently listed as a “hot trend” by the American Restaurant Association and as health care food service trend, this preference is not limited to “high-end” establishments but is reported among casual, fast-casual, and quick-service dining as well.
St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka (SJE) is a full-service acute-care 158-bed facility and part of St. Joseph Health, Humboldt County along with Redwood Memorial Hospital. St. Joseph Health employs approximately 1,200 employees and is one of the region’s largest employers.
For employees at SJE, quality food that is produced locally (within 250 miles of the facility) is a top priority and worth investing in, when they know their food dollars are benefit the local economy.
This became apparent when in 2017, Nui Mulvey, manager of nutrition services distributed a survey asking customers about their willingness to pay more for local produce and grass-fed beef. The majority of survey responses supported her department’s decision to pilot a direct purchasing program in which they’d source local produce from nearby Willow Creek Farm and grass-fed beef from Humboldt Grassfed.
From October 2017 and April 2018, SJE spent $9,177 on local, grass-fed beef and $6,812 on local produce. Their produce and grass-fed beef purchases during this period contributed $15,989 to supporting their local food economy.
According to Mulvey, “100 percent of the beef we buy is grass-fed, unless Humboldt Grassfed doesn’t have enough for us; in which case then we use regular beef.”
When asked about useful strategies for shifting to direct, local purchasing, Mulvey explained that buying seasonal produce when possible, menu forecasting, and strong marketing materials have been vital to their success.
Willow Creek Farms provided her with a 12-month seasonal growing calendar and with that, she worked closely with Michelle Wyler, senior program manager at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, to identify the seasonal produce she wanted to buy and to create a menu around seasonal produce availability, to help offset the cost.
Mulvey adds,“I’ve also been sending out the monthly menu to staff in advance with a Humboldt Grassfed sticker next to the items we anticipate will use the local, grass-fed beef.” Some items include their meatloaf and popular zucchini patties.
St. Joseph Health is just one example of how purchasing regionally grown foods from sustainably managed farms, health care has access to a wider variety of tastier, fresh foods that can be enjoyed seasonally and at their peak of nutritional value. Buying regional foods can also contribute to community development, providing jobs and opportunity for disadvantaged communities, and can support the local economy, building community wealth.