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7 secrets for healthful hospital food, from asparagus to tomatoes

Hillary Bisnett grew up on a farm in Dowagiac, Mich., that grew asparagus, raspberries, strawberries and 16 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Her father tried practices to reduce his family's pesticide exposure and protect the water and soil. He believed the unique flavor, especially of tomatoes and strawberries, was a result in part of his nearly organic farming practices.

Now, as the healthy food program director for the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, she is spearheading a regional approach that connects Michigan farmers to hospitals in the state, and helping others to connect food systems with the environment, climate change and public health.

While pursuing a degree in sustainable business at Aquinas College, Bisnett held a 2007 internship with Metro Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, which tasked her with starting up the hospital farmer’s market. She gained the experience needed to land a job at the Ecology Center, funded by WK Kellogg Foundation and Kresge Foundation, to make the critical link between how food is grown and distributed and public and environmental health.

On a national level, Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program was gaining traction. It held its third FoodMed conference in Detroit 2009 just as Bisnett began her new position with the Ecology Center.

The Michigan Healthy Food in Health Care Program took off and continues to work at all levels from supporting healthier food systems in Detroit to creating a cross-sector institutional purchasing initiative called Cultivate Michigan. Metro Hospital is one of 25 Michigan hospitals that host farmer’s markets and half of them accept food assistance programs, such as double-value coupons and SNAP, as forms of payment.

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