Local sourcing in ski country

Kathy King offers insight on how to tailor sourcing initiatives to a senior living facility.

Published in Wellness Watch

By 
Katie Fanuko, Associate Editor

Providing locally sourced foods to the residents at Wake Robin Life Care Community, a senior living facility in Shelburne, Vt., goes beyond adhering to a state initiative for Kathy King, the facility’s dining services director. It also aligns with her personal philosophy on food. “If my parents lived here or my grandparents lived here, would I want to feed them the same food that I’m eating at home?” she says. “The answer is, yes.”

She also plays an integral role in her state’s local food movement as a chair member of the Healthy Food in Health Care Vermont Work Group a consortium of healthcare facilities that aims to meet a state’s initiative that calls on public institutions to source 20 percent of products from local farms and vendors by 2020. Over the years, King has addressed some of the challenges of sourcing locally and shares the methods she uses at her facility.

How do you address the challenges in procuring local foods?

In the state of Vermont, the seasonality is not there for a lot of different products. I kind of give [farmers] some leeway—they’ll grow what they can grow.

I do things like just write “seasonal vegetables” on the menu. I don’t name them, so that the farmers can give us what they have available. Simple things like that definitely help.

The other challenge is, working with farmers. They are out in the field, so it’s difficult to get a hold of them and have a conversation. [One of our farmers is] at the farmers market in town. So on the weekends, I go to the farmers’ market and find out what’s going on with her farm so that I know for work. 

What is your process for securing products from local farms?

Kathy: It depends on what they are offering. For fruits and vegetables or something of that nature, I set up a partnership with them. There is a local farm, Bella Farm, that’s about 20 minutes from our campus. I met with the owner to discuss what she is producing and how she’s growing it. She’s a certified organic farmer, so a lot of questions about food safety were answered knowing that she goes through this certification process.

Every partnership is a little different. As far as the meat products go, we’ve had three different farms that we work with individually. I ask them for information about who’s slaughtering their animals and how it gets processed. I have asked for certificates to know it is done the way that it’s supposed to through federal instructions.

Is there anything that you look back on and might have done differently?

In the network I work with, area hospitals talk a lot about farmers’ markets [for customers.] I tried it here and it was a bomb because they’re seniors and they’re going to buy one head of lettuce.

Instead, we have a CSA [community-supported agriculture] that we offer to our residents. They get to buy whatever they want and it’s right on their doorstep, so it’s not overwhelming for them.

What advice would you give to other senior living operators who are interested in sourcing local?

I always suggest one thing at a time. Take baby steps first, just do one thing and make that work at your operation, however big or however small.

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