By Lindsey Scalera, Ecology Center Farm to Institution Campaign Director
More than 200 health care practitioners and other good food advocates gathered at the second Farms, Food, and Health Conference in Traverse City. Maureen Husek, Director of Nutrition and Retail Services at Beaumont Hospital (and MFIN Advisory Committee Member), and Grant Fletcher, System Director of Food & Nutrition, Retail, and Sustainability at Bronson Healthcare, each shared insights they have gained on their respective journeys toward procuring and featuring locally-grown food on their menus, including how they grow support for their efforts while promoting healthy eating.
The Beaumont Royal Oak Campus is a large hospital located in the suburbs north of Detroit. A large number of patients, staff and visitors on campus every day; the hospital serves about 5.5 million meals a year. Maureen explained what is behind Beaumont's commitment to local purchasing:
"Why do we buy local? We focus on healthy food choices that support disease prevention and model more healthful nutrition practices. We also want to support local and state agriculture, promote access to fresh, whole foods, decrease our environmental footprint, and support our local economy."
Beaumont's commitment to local food is evident in the numerous ways Maureen raises awareness through the menu design, digital displays, signage in the cafeteria, and through the Hospital's own on-site farmers market, which runs May through October. Maureen takes advantage of Cultivate Michigan materials, including recipes, product information, posters, logos and window clings (pictured above).
One of Maureen's most recent achievements involved working with one of the state's largest food distributors to provide Michigan products in its price lists. Over the course of about a year, Maureen worked with directly her prime vendor. She invited them to tour her facility to see what she was already buying that fits her definition local and finding out which other products could be sourced locally. This resulted in a partnership with a local processor and a new list of 30 products coming from 11 Michigan farms. As this project unfolds, Maureen and other institutions will be able to increase their local purchasing.
Bronson Healthcare has made local purchasing a part of its identity, with one hospital purchasing directly from farmers, the other via food distributors. Grant reports that Bronson Methodist Hospital, located in Kalamazoo, MI, has a self-operated food service department and is currently purchasing 33% local, while sister campus, Bronson Battle Creek Hospital has a contracted food service management department, and they are currently purchasing about 14% local. Grant shared with conferencegoers that his definition of local food is a little different from other institutions, it only includes what he is able to source directly from producers. They do purchase from major broadline distributors, but the local percentage comes from only local producers with whom they have a face-to-face relationship.
While efforts started slowly, staff now automatically takes local into account first, when making purchasing decision. "We started out eight years ago with a CSA, guest chefs, and farmers markets - and those things are still going on. These things are a lot of work, but it has helped to foster a lot of support within the walls of the hospital." These efforts paved the way for the hospital to make bigger changes, like switching all of their ground beef to a locally-raised, grassfed beef coming from about 30 miles away.
A highlight of Grant's presentation was the story of a relatively small machine that had a big impact. Due to recent events, there has been a significant increase in the price of eggs. Luckily, Bronson Healthcare was already working with a local Michigan supplier to procure pasture-raised eggs. Part of that transition included the purchase of a liquid egg extractor (pictured above). When the price of eggs skyrocketed, the hospital was already making their own locally-sourced liquid eggs. Grant estimates that this switched saved them around $40,000.
Grant and Maureen's stories show that local food procurement can be done in any hospital food environment. With the right combination of allies, a clear vision and rationale, and a commitment to making healthy, local food a priority, other institutions can make an impact in communities across Michigan.
For more information:
A video produced for the Michigan Good Food Summit highlighting how Beaumont Hospital's efforts advance the goals of the Michigan Good Food Charter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOtnNLZzi0A&feature=youtu.be
Visit the Bronson Methodist Winter Farmers Market website: https://www.bronsonhealth.com/patients-and-visitors/bronson-methodist-hospital/for-patients/while-youre-here/food/bronson-winters-farmers-market/
Read more about the Farms, Food, and Health Conference and access slides from the sessions: http://www.groundworkcenter.org/events/farms-food-health/