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(BERKELEY, CA) – A team of six hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area share lessons learned in a new How-To Guide based on two years of collaboration through the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project (FFHP).
Since the project launched in the summer of 2012, the hospitals have purchased nearly 67,000 pounds of local produce from ten family farmers who practice sustainable agriculture by growing to organic standards, using integrated pest management techniques that reduce pesticide use, increasing bio- and crop diversity on their farms, and marketing their products locally.
The project is the result of a collaboration between Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Health Care Without Harm, and San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility. The guide is available at www.HealthyFoodinHealthCare.org.
From Field to Patient Tray
While many hospitals participating in the local food movement buy directly from farmers or source through alternative systems of distribution like food hubs, the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project uses a third route with the potential for more widespread adoption by institutional purchasers – it gets more local, family-farmed produce onto the trucks of produce distributors who are already serving hospitals.
In other words, rather than recreating the wheel, the project retrofits the conventional supply chain to make the distance between farm and patient tray shorter and to increase transparency by sharing information about the origin of the produce and the farmers who grew it all the way through the ordering and distribution process.
This allows the hospitals to share the farmers’ stories and to educate patients, staff, and visitors about the importance of supporting sustainable agriculture.
“Through sustainable food initiatives like the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project, hospitals have a tremendous opportunity to lead by example, to educate patients and patrons about an environmental approach to nutrition, and to use their food dollars to support the creation of a healthier food system,” says Lucia Sayre, Co-Director of San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility and Co-Coordinator of the Healthy Food in Health Care Program of Health Care Without Harm.
Redefining Healthy Food
The hospitals recognize that healthy food has as much to do with the way we produce, process, and distribute it as with the standard nutrition facts. “That means the whole process from the field to the plate, and it includes being stewards of the community our patients live in,” says Kimberlee Alvari, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Washington Hospital.
“Organic strawberries are a priority for us because they’re on the Dirty Dozen list,” says Sandra Rigney, Director of Nutrition Services at John Muir Health, referring to the Environmental Working Group’s list of the twelve produce items with the highest levels of pesticide residues. “By reducing the amount of pesticides in the environment, we can in turn reduce the risk of associated health problems like cancers and neurodevelopmental disorders.”
By supporting farmers that reduce pesticide use, hospitals are treating the community as the patient, as farmworkers and rural communities who are closest to agricultural production have the highest rates of exposure to pesticides and the greatest risk of associated health problems.
Together, the hospitals participating in the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project have purchased over 40,000 pounds of organic strawberries from Coke Farm over the past two summers. Some of those berries would have been shipped to customers in Denver or Chicago, but the project is helping Coke Farm keep more berries closer to home.
The farm has increased its organic strawberry acreage by thirty percent to meet the hospitals’ demand. “Local markets can be saturated,” says co-owner Christine Coke, “so diversifying our customer base is really great. Both of the distributors [involved in the FFHP] are now buying a little more of my product across the board.”
Ariane Michas of Community Alliance with Family Farmers underscores the leadership the hospitals have taken on this important issue. “It’s terrific that the hospitals, as public health institutions, have rallied around organic strawberries and other sustainable local produce. It makes a difference in the eating experience of patients, staff, and guests, in the environment, and to the family farmers who grow it.”
In addition to strawberries, the project sourced organic squash and organic mandarins as well as green beans, pears, apples, and asparagus grown on farms that reduce pesticide use through integrated pest management practices.
Strength in Numbers
With their collective demand, the hospitals are creating significant new markets for sustainable products.
“With three or four hospitals working together, that’s a game changer,” says Luis Vargas, Procurement Manager for Nutrition and Food Services at University of California at San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF).
UCSF, along with Washington Hospital, the San Francisco VA Medical Center, and three campuses of John Muir Health, lead the FFHP. With two new hospitals on board this year, Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, the project is set to expand.
Vargas points to the ongoing collaboration of the Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team coordinated by the Healthy Food in Health Care program as a key to the project’s success, “Having a roundtable discussion with other hospitals on the challenges, failures, and strategies of the project and generating ideas about how to grow this and how to line up behind a farmer, that type of discussion is very valuable.”
Healthy Food in Health Care is a national program of Health Care Without Harm. In California, the program works with one quarter of all hospitals in the state and is coordinated by San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility and allied organizations in Los Angeles and San Diego. Nationwide, the effort is nearly 700 hospitals and health systems strong.
The Healthy Food in Health Care program harnesses the purchasing power of participating hospitals and the moral authority of the doctors, nurses, and dietitians who work there for a combined strategy of market-based change and improved public policy on issues ranging from antibiotic overuse in animal agriculture to the public health impacts of pesticides.
Heath Care Without Harm, an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, is working to transform the health sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice. To learn more about HCWH's work, visit our website at www.noharm.org.
San Francisco Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility leads the Healthy Food in Health Care Program in California. Guided by the expertise of medicine and public health, we work to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. We promote public policies and practices that protect human health from the threats of nuclear war and other weapons of mass destruction, climate change, toxic chemicals, environmental health harms associated with the industrial food system, and other social injustices in our society today. Learn more at www.CAHealthyFoodinHealthCare.org.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers is a nonprofit organization that advocates for California’s family farmers and sustainable agriculture. Strong partnerships exist between family farmers and their communities. CAFF strives to build on shared values around food and agriculture, and work together in practical, on-the-ground programs. These partnerships create locally-based economic vitality, improved human and environmental health, and long-term sustainability of family farms. Learn more at www.caff.org.