Local and Sustainable Food Purchasing 

While working to reduce food-based greenhouse gas emissions, HCWH simultaneously seeks to build more climate-resilient, community-based food systems. Over the past year, HCWH launched a Regenerative Farm to Hospital Initiative in four pilot sites to build relationships between health care institutions and local food producers using regenerative agricultural practices.

Erin Meyer, Executive Director of Basil’s Harvest in central Illinois, is leading the Midwest pilot. Basil’s Harvest is part of ReGenerate IL, a collaborative group of non-profits, farmers and other advocates who seek to promote regenerative agriculture across the state. Over the course of the 18-month pilot, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center will purchase all of its oats from Janie’s Farm Organics, a grain farm that uses regenerative practices. The hospital is entirely new to local purchasing, but the Food Service Director is eager to get involved. Meyer explains that the pilot satisfies a number of criteria, beginning with the crop itself, “I’m really excited about what oats provide not just in terms of a food product, but also in terms of regenerative agriculture and soil health – oats are an important cover crop.” Janie’s Farm also has a mill, which allows them to process the grains locally and retain more value. At the hospital, the oats will be used for oatmeal and granola and, in designing the pilot, Meyer was sensitive to the hospital’s needs. “Oats are a small, shelf-stable grain that are easy to use and not cost-prohibitive, unlike pasture-raised beef, which would be cost-prohibitive at this point.”

Meyer sees the pilot as a critical first step. “The goal is to build a long-term relationship where the hospital will continue to procure their oats from the farmer,” says Meyer. However, she is already thinking about how the pilot can inform larger changes. “We are looking at this from a systems perspective,” says Meyer. “We are starting by learning about small grains and we can build from there.”

Intermediaries like Meyer (on behalf of Basil’s Harvest) can play an important role in connecting health care institutions to local producers. Anthony Verona, Director of Culinary Services at University Hospitals (UH) Health System in Cleveland, OH and a Cool Food Pledge member, explains that working with the local food logistics company Azoti, along with Maumee Valley Growers and the Oberlin Food Hub, was a game-changer. “We are [the food services management company] Sodexo, so we cannot go buy food from the farmer down the street,” explains Verona. “We have to go through a purchaser.” UH Health now procures about 7% of its food from local (within 250 miles) producers. While Verona would love to do more local procurement, he says that cost is often a barrier. Verona allows himself some wiggle room (no more than four percent higher than the alternative) for local foods, but has to watch the bottom line.  “Like every other system, the health care system is looking to save money.”

But these hospitals — who are successfully buying and serving local and sustainably-produced foods and who are reducing emissions through menu changes — are demonstrating that it is possible to meet their goals (healthier patients, keeping costs down) while also contributing to a healthier system overall. “Hospitals want to be good global citizens and members of the community,” says John Stoddard at HCWH. “They are also in a position to be modeling good behavior.” The opportunity to become part of a bigger movement – and inspire others – is a large part of Dan Henroid’s enthusiasm about the Cool Food Pledge: “More than anything, it is sharing our work and letting the rest of the country know that it is possible to do this.”

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