Region’s hospitals accepting Buy Local challenge

Staff Reporter

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. — More than 40 hospitals in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Northern Virginia are now purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables regularly during the growing season, and nine hospitals are now consistently purchasing meat or poultry produced by local farmers who use sustainable agricultural practices.
“You can’t get any better taste than fresh produce,” said Rick Haefner, Food and Nutrition Service Director at Calvert Memorial Hospital in Prince Frederick, Md.
Campaigns such as the Buy Local Challenge by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the “less meat, better meat” Balanced Menus Challenge by Health Care Without Harm offered hospitals opportunities to pilot new purchasing initiatives.
“We tried (the program) out this summer with Buy Local Challenge and now we’re serving it all the time,” Haefner said. “The beef was a huge hit.”
Haefner said Calvert Memorial Hospital’s cafeteria serves Quiet Meadow Farm’s grass-fed beef from Calvert County and may expand to the patients’ meats in the future.
The 40 hospitals spent nearly $30,000 on local foods in one week during the Buy Local Challenge in July, twice the amount purchased during the same week in 2010.
One of the highest purchases for the week included Union Hospital of Cecil County at $5,482.
Gov. Martin O’Malley recognized Holly Emmons, food and nutrition services manager at Union Hospital of Cecil County with the Governor’s first Smart, Green and Growing Buy Local Agricultural Challenge Award at the Buy Local Cookout in July.
Emmons is now purchasing almost half of the hospital’s produce, dairy, meat and poultry directly from local sustainable farmers.
“It really sets an example for the patients’ wellness program,” Emmons said.
This includes Certified Organic fruit and vegetables and local pastured meat, chicken and turkey, which are served to patients, employees and to visitors who eat at the hospital.
“We utilize local grass-fed beef from Liberty Delight in Reisterstown,” said Emmons.
Emmons said the local and fresh menu had been beneficial for everyone involved.
“The staff loves it,” Emmons said. “It promotes teamwork in the kitchen.” She added the kitchen staff has learned to use alternate cuts of beef and acquired new recipes from the growers.
“Incorporating more local and sustainable foods requires a modification of the traditional purchasing practices of hospitals,” said Louise Mitchell, one of the regional organizers of Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care Program. “Leading hospitals in this region deserve a lot of credit for their persistence, determination and strategic thinking on how to make it work.”
Emmons said she had also developed good relationships with the growers.
Union Hospital sources its produce from Vic Priapi at Priapi Gardens in Cecilton, Md.
“Vic has been able to add additional acres and added high houses to grow through the winter,” Emmons said. “And Liberty Delight Farms has added additional acres for livestock.”
The hospital also uses locally owned businesses including Hy-Point Dairy, Kilby Cream and Chesapeake Coffee Company.