Over the last several months, I have conducted a research project with my friend Sam Lipschultz, who recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. Our research focused upon farm to institution collaboration in the United States, and particularly upon Farm to Hospital programs. Below is a brief introduction to our final report, and you can download a full PDF file of the report by clicking here, or on the link that follows the introduction. We hope our work might serve as an inspiration and as a resource for hospitals in the United States. Your attention and feedback is appreciated!
Real Food, Real Health: Reasons and Resources for Starting Farm to Hospital Programs in the United States
U.S. hospitals spend over $5 billion each year on food. The average hospital serves over a million meals each year. If shifted to support the healthiest, freshest food, this buying power would help hospitals meet their most basic goal, of nourishing human health, while supporting the food system infrastructure required to increase and maintain access to healthy food for years to come.
Connecting farms with nearby hospitals has positive implications far beyond environmental and human health. Farm to hospital programs create a niche market for the types of farms that are often left out of both the conventional food system, and alternative local food systems. Small farms, often farming with some variation on certified organic practices, tend to gravitate toward direct retail markets, such as farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture groups. Large farms, often practicing chemical intensive farming, tend to produce for export to other regions or countries. It is the mid-size farms that are disappearing fast. And it is those mid-sized farms that are perfect for the wholesale market of farm to hospital programs. Farm to hospital programs provide an increase in nutritional value and taste of food; a heightened capacity for accountability over food safety and worker conditions; increased food access and food security by offering fresh, healthy food to the entire spectrum of community residents; and key contributions to the much needed infrastructure for thriving local food systems.
For healthy food in hospitals to become the norm, hospital stakeholders must begin to act on their awareness of the pitfalls of producing and consuming conventional food, and on their knowledge of the advantages of purchasing locally grown and sustainably produced food. The following study considers the unique and strategic location of farm to hospital programs on the frontier of local, equitable and sustainable food systems.