ARCATA, Calif.—An on-site farm at 75-bed Mad River Community Hospital has helped change the way the foodservice department procures food and writes its menus.
The one-and-a-half-acre farm started last year after the hospital’s “green” committee pitched the idea to the hospital’s CEO. “I got a call from one of the committee members saying, ‘Well, he said yes. How do we do this?’” says Todd Heustis, food and nutrition services manager. “I’ve worked with our local chapter of CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers), which tries to link farms with local institutions. I called the lady I had worked with there, and she had a business plan from a couple of local farmers on my desk in about 36 hours.”
From there, the hospital decided to hire a full-time farmer, planted crops and apple trees and built a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse. Right now the garden is growing produce such as lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and bell peppers.
The garden is also growing some specialty produce items like kohlrabi, a member of the turnip family, and celeriac, the root of a celery cultivated for its root. The kohlrabi is used as a noodle replacement in lasagna, making the dish vegetarian and gluten free. Heustis asked customers if they noticed a difference with the lasagna and most didn’t realize there were no noodles in the dish. The celeriac is used to make a variety of slaws.
Heustis says the farm has changed the way he does menu planning. “Typically, I was writing menus a month ahead of time. I realized that I wasn’t able to use the produce from the farm. Now, I sit down with the kitchen manager, who used to run a local restaurant, our cook in the café and the farmer. The farmer tells us what he has available and the kitchen manager comes up with ideas. Then we write a menu just for that week based on what’s coming in from the farm. The cooks have the flexibility to say we have x and y to work with that’s coming in from the farm.”
During peak production times, between 70% and 80% of all produce served in the hospital to patients and in the café is from the farm.
Heustis says the local produce has been a hit with the community. “We are a very health- and food-conscious community,” he says. “We are trying to market as much as we can [about] what our hospital is doing so that our patients and community will make that decision as to where they want to come.” Community tours of the farm and produce stands at local festivals are two ways the hospital is marketing its farm to the public. As the farm expands—an additional 2,000-square-foot greenhouse and additional half acre of farmland are being developed—Heustis hopes to start an annual hospital pumpkin patch event. The farm grows the pumpkins and families can come to the farm to pick pumpkins, enjoy cider and produce and take a hayride.
“What’s been fun has been the evolution that I’ve watched with the staff in our hospital,” Heustis says about the farm. “When we first started the farm, I thought there was no way we were going to get away with serving chard to all of the staff. People are loving it and eating this stuff. Most places have their candy display by the front register. I’ve taken bags of cherry tomatoes or fresh-picked carrots and put them right there and our candy sales go down. I see tremendous amount of pride in this hospital because we have this farm.”
To get hospital employees involved, a time-share work program was started with the farm. The employees sign up to work a four-hour shift for which they receive a share of produce at the end of the week.