Bay Area Hospitals Aggregate Demand to Push the Market for Local and Organic Produce from Family Farmers

San Francisco, CA — Hospitals across the nation have begun to implement healthier, more sustainable food service programs with the support and encouragement of Health Care Without Harm’s (HCWH) Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Program. The program is marking Food Day by celebrating accomplishments in sustainability being made in hospital food services across the country. Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.

During the summer, three hospitals -- the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, John Muir Health, and the San Francisco VA Medical Center -- achieved combined purchasing of 7,210 pounds of local, organic strawberries, 3,830 pounds of local green beans, and 1,440 pounds of local stone fruit, all sourced from family farms. The hospitals are expanding their efforts to include fall and winter crops. 

"The connection has been established and will only strengthen in the growing seasons to come," states John Muir Health's Executive Chef, Alison Negrin. "Knowing that we have worked together to purchase organic and locally-grown produce for all of the thousands of patients and employees that have passed through the corridors of our three campuses since May is something to shout about! “

The hospitals' commitment provides meaningful economic support to local, independent family farmers practicing environmentally-responsible methods of production. "As a farm, we like to work with area hospitals because it allows us to plan crops specifically suited to their needs and to sustainably expand local sales," says Christine Coke, co-owner of Coke Farms. 

Prioritizing organic produce means hospitals are supporting agricultural methods that are better for the land, for farm workers, and for hospital patients and visitors. As a result of the hospitals' commitment, Coke Farm plans to double their acreage for organic strawberry production next season. As a growing body of scientific data demonstrates, many pesticides used in conventional agricultural production are linked with a range of adverse health impacts including cancers, neurodevelopmental disorders and reproductive health problems. "We are thrilled that these hospitals have prioritized organic strawberries since strawberries carry a heavy pesticide load when grown conventionally. Choosing organic strawberries represents an important step towards meaningful reduction in pesticide exposure for both farm workers and consumers," states Lucia Sayre, Co-Executive Director of San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility (SF PSR).

The hospitals achieved this goal through the coordinated efforts of the Regional Produce Purchasing Project organized by Community Alliance With Family Farmers (CAFF) and SF PSR, which coordinates the Healthy Food in Health Care program in CA. The project is funded through the Kaiser Permanente Community Benefits Program. 

CAFF is a non-profit organization that advocates for California’s family farmers and sustainable agriculture. Family-scale farms are often shut out of the institutional market, but hospital foodservice leaders are clamoring for their high quality and sustainable produce. One of the specific goals of this project is to work with the hospitals’ produce distributors, to connect them with more local growers and to increase the traceability of local food through the supply chain. 

Ariane Michas, Program Manager for CAFF, comments, "For large-volume buyers like these, having the choice of a local farm's product at point of purchase represents a real change. Rather than making their best guess as to what might be local based on their knowledge of seasonality in the region, point of purchase identification creates a huge opportunity to reshape the local food system for everyone from farmers to patients." 

SF PSR began working with hospitals on sustainable food initiatives in 2005. The organization coordinates the Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team, whose nine constituent hospitals and health systems share knowledge and pool their purchasing power in order to shift the marketplace toward healthier, sustainably-produced food. 

“The Bay Area Hospital Leadership team with all of its partners has been instrumental in advancing UCSF Medical Center’s commitment to sustainability," says Dan Henroid, Director of Food & Nutrition Services. "The coordination provided by Physicians for Social Responsibility and other partners such as the Community Alliance for Family Farmers has provided Bay Area hospitals invaluable linkages and perspective from the local farmers. We look forward to expanding and continuing this partnership which is creating a new model to provide the freshest food to our patients and customers.” 

The current Regional Produce Purchasing Project builds on these hospitals' ongoing efforts to purchase local and sustainable foods and is just one part of a larger sustainability agenda for the San Francisco Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team. Along with over 400 hospitals nationwide, they have signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge developed by the Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Program of Health Care Without Harm, which advocates for the purchase of sustainable foods—ie, food from a food system that is economically viable, ecologically sustainable, and socially just. The HFHC program is celebrating Food Day by marking milestones achieved by hospital food services throughout the country. SF PSR coordinates the HFHC work throughout California. 

The HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Program has an ambitious healthy food agenda, which includes buying local and/or certified organic food; avoiding food raised with artificial growth hormones and antibiotics; encouraging group purchasing organizations (GPOs) to support healthy food in healthcare; supporting local farmers and farming organizations; introducing farmers’ markets and on-site CSA programs at hospitals; reducing food waste; and establishing an overarching food policy at each health facility. 

The Healthy Food in Health Care (HFHC) Program is a national initiative of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), developed in conjunction with its member organizations, which mobilizes advocates to work with hospitals across the country to help improve the sustainability of their food services. The program provides education, tools, resources, and support to health care facilities making the connection between the health of their patients, staff and community and the food they serve. For more information about the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Program, visit learn more about HCWH's work, visit our website at, our YouTube channel at HCwithoutharm, and our twitter feed at hcwithoutharm.