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Sustainable foodservice starts with you

Practice Greenhealth launches new resources this month

Breathing in through my nose, I turned to my father and said “I love the smell of freshly turned soil.” I was only 7. At a young age, I took to my father’s side and helped in every way I could by assembling packaging together after dinner, standing on the back of the tractor to jump off and catch what it missed to leaving well before sun up on Saturday mornings to go to market. By the age of 12, I was fully running the cherry tomato operation on our 14-acre family farm in Michigan. I bought the seed, watered, tied the long 500 foot rows with string to keep the tomato plants from falling over, purchased and constructed hundreds of bulk boxes and picked and sold those hundreds of boxes of tomatoes.  The wholesale buyers out of Chicago got to know me by name, but we didn’t stop there. We sold to several restaurants in the area, operated a road-side farm stand 6 days a week and as I entered high school, started selling to the community college.

Today, I self-identify as a ‘foodie,’ but I can say I was lucky to be raised on the real flavors of more than a couple dozen fruits and vegetables. Still to this day, if someone says they don’t like something, I make them try it again when it’s been picked vine ripe. Today, millennials, who are a lot like me and me in fact, make up $200 billion worth of purchasing power and in the next decade will make the majority of purchasing decisions. We eat out more often than my parents and their parents and come with many opinions about food. We want it healthy – meaning beyond calories, fat and sodium- fresh and authentic. We are also well informed and expect transparency—what were the chickens fed and how were the vegetables grown? And while many of the younger ones don’t have a lot of money to pay more, research shows millennials are spending more on food and dining out than clothes, electronics and services. Lastly, millennials feel confident in the kitchen—65 percent say the love cooking and are experts in the kitchen.

My dad attended one of the first hospital-based farmers marketing in the country—one I happened to start while I worked at Metro Health Hospitals (Wyoming, MI).  

This last statement is huge as we all find ourselves rethinking the way we eat and the skills we have to do so. It’s also the very skill many institutional kitchens are missing – what ever happen to home economics? I took it in school and learned it was removed just a year or so later. Good thing I found my way into culinary school after finishing a business degree. So since this is so close to my heart, I invite you all to join The Case for Green Menus Every Day on October 22 to sharpen your understanding of how meals can be good for our health and the health of the planet.

But back to the farm…

I can’t say our farm was USDA Organic, but it was exactly the type of farm I want to support today. While my dad used little to no spray and integrated pest management practices, we didn’t feel many of the industrial farming practices were a good fit for our farm. We kept it small and diversified. We became known for our strawberries, raspberries, heirloom tomatoes, a wide variety of peppers and the fact that my father would try just about anything- okra, eggplant and even ground cherries.

  Sungolds, or as my dad and I called them ‘orange sweeties’ and black raspberries growing on our farm. You can even see the hoophouse, like a greenhouse, but not artificial heating, we used to extend our season beyond the berries.

Since we often don’t have direct relationships with the people growing our food to ask how it was grown or raised, Practice Greenhealth is here to help. Building on the momentum and success of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, Healthier Hospitals (HH) has become a permanent program of Practice Greenhealth, intended to guide those who are just beginning their sustainability work. The six Challenge areas and corresponding data sets have been reviewed and refreshed and have begun to be rolled out on a monthly basis. October brings us the new Healthier Food Challenge.

But that’s not all. Practice Greenhealth has nurtured and grown a new set of content for building a sustainable food service. Hospitals can access guides and resources for creating healthy food and beverage environments, purchasing local and sustainable foods, balancing your menus and much more. This winter, we will bring you supporting local farms and increasing healthy food access in time to start planning your farm market, fresh food share box or even starting a fruit and veggie prescription program. By next spring, new resources to sustain your efforts will be available through a suite of policy, planning and contract samples for working with external vendors.

In the meantime, check out the Greenhealth Academy for upcoming learning opportunities like a Sharing call: ;Achieving beyond the Healthier Food Challenge - Stanford Health Care’s food transformation story (Wednesday, October 7 at 1:00 p.m. EDT) and the first webinar in the Food Series: Making the Case for Green Meals Every Day(Thursday, October 22 at 1:00 p.m. EDT).

In the meantime, check out the Greenhealth Academy for upcoming learning opportunities like a Sharing call: Achieving beyond the Healthier Food Challenge - Stanford Health Care’s food transformation story (Wednesday, October 7 at 1:00 p.m. EDT) and the first webinar in the Food Series: Making the Case for Green Meals Every Day (Thursday, October 22 at 1:00 p.m. EDT).

Hillary Bisnett
National Procurement Director
Healthy Food in Health Care Program
Health Care Without Harm


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