We have pledged to improve the health of our patients, our community and our environment through food. We put that promise in writing in 2006 when we signed the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge.
Since then we have made many significant achievements through changing our practice. We have
- Increased our purchase of meats raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics;
- Worked with local farmers and other producers to buy their products; and
- Increased the amount of organic foods we purchase.
We have been tracking our success for several years now, and I am excited to share our 2013 progress report:
In 2013, we purchased almost $1.5 million dollars of farm and food products from Vermont, plus 30 miles (the definition for local food used by the statewide Farm to Plate initiative). That is one-third of our food budget.
We have come a long way since we first started down this road. About $250,000 of that $1.5 million went directly to producers. We purchased nearly $0.5 million in organic foods, far surpassing our goals for the year.
So, how do we do it? Because we serve over 2 million meals per year, every change and every new product takes some effort to work into the system. The cornerstone of our work is collaboration – internally and externally.
- Internally, a team from our Department of Nutrition Services meets regularly to work on our purchasing. We review our achievements and challenges and develop a plan of action. This year, we want to start buying more local grains, more organic milk, and increase the amount of poultry produced locally without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics.
- Externally, we work with partners across the state and the region to access the kinds of foods that we want, and in the (very large) quantities needed (remember those 2 million meals!). We meet with our seasonal farmers once a year to learn about happenings on their farms, review what we bought last year, and decide on upcoming crop purchases. We also spend time and energy supporting producers and farmers as they develop new products, like oil, frozen fruits and vegetables, and other items. This is an important part that we can play in strengthening Vermont’s food system.
Our commitment to health and food expands beyond the cafeteria.
- We have two community gardens on site and lead a weekly class for our employees. Working with our gardener and a dietitian, participants are able to change their habits, from growing to cooking to eating more healthy food.
- We work with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps to bring patients at Colchester Family Practice Health Shares, a farm share delivered weekly featuring local vegetables and other items. At each drop off, patients learn how to cook with these foods so that they can prepare them at home. One participant said it was the “single best thing that’s ever improved my health- it was a life changer”.
It’s this type of change that we are encouraging – both in our patients and employees – and successes like these are why we do this work.
Diane Imrie is Director of Nutrition Services at the UVM Medical Center. Learn more about healthy food at the UVM Medical Center by visiting the Center for Nutrition and Healthy Food Systems, focused on building sustainable food in health care.