Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bringing The Farm To The Hospital

One of the things in life that I find most ironic is the unhealthy food that is served in hospitals and at other medical facilities.

Think about it. In spite of the fact that fresh food has natural disease fighting nutrients that help speed healing and prevent illness, hospital food is not known for being a model of healthy eating. On the contrary, it has the reputation of being mostly non-edible and features all of the things that most doctors caution against: foods with enormous quantities of fat, sugar, and sodium, and many even have fast food restaurants right on site.

The good news is that in recent years many hospitals are using creative solutions to provide nutritional food to their patients and staff while promoting healthy, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable food systems.

The most common way they are doing this is by partnering with local farmers to improve the quality of food in these institutions. These partnerships, known as farm to hospital programs, not only bring healthier food, but also help small and local farmers by providing them with increased economic opportunities.

A leader in this trend is the Center for Food and Justice (CFJ) at Occidental College in Los Angeles. They have been working to promote the farm to hospital model and implement pilot farm to hospital programs throughout Southern California.

CFJ notes that the farm to hospital approach goes beyond buying local fruits and vegetables and includes other sustainable and health-promoting food purchasing options like organic food, sustainably raised meats, produce and dairy products, and antibiotic free meat and dairy products.

Also spearheading this movement is the nonprofit Health Care Without Harm, a coalition of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, community groups, health-affected constituencies, labor unions, environmental and environmental health organizations. They started the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge to get hospitals to serve more local fruits and vegetables, hormone-free milk, and meat raised without antibiotics or hormones. So far, over 160 facilities nationwide have taken the pledge.

The pledge also asks health care institutions to go beyond local and healthy food purchasing and adopt practices for food waste, food packaging, and buying fair trade products. Both organizations indicate that farmers’ markets on hospital grounds are an important component of farm to hospital programs. Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland was the first healthcare facility to house a farmers’ market on its grounds. Started in 2003, it now has 10 markets at its California facilities.

Other hospitals throughout the country that have implemented similar programs include Allen Memorial Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, and Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

If you work at a healthcare facility or are concerned about the food served at your local hospital, contact the food services director or the health education department to see about making a positive and healthful change in your community. You can use these models to show them the effectiveness of Farm to Hospital programs.

(Originally published on Care2, http://www.care2.com/causes/health-policy/blog/bringing-the-farm-to-the-hospital/)

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