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Operation Hospital Food

May 5th, 2012 - By Lari Robling

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Hospital food is no joke at Cooper University Hospital in Camden. Through the work of Fair Food and Common Market, Fran Cassidy director of food and nutrition, discovers innovative ways to bring healthy food to healthcare. Staff, patients, the community and  farmers all benefit from a commitment to local food.



Food activist and author Michael Pollan, says eating better all begins with the farmer.

He notes, “You know to actually have really good sustainable farming we’re gonna need more farmers because a lot  of the problems of agriculture, pesticides excess fertilizer all the energy we use in farming is a substitute for labor.”

In theory that’s where eating locally comes in. But according to Farm Aid we are losing farms at an alarming rate – nationally on average 330 a week, most family farms. Given the current distribution system small farms are at a disadvantage– a large institution would need many small farmers to meet the demand plus they don’t have the time or means to deliver directly.

Fran Cassidy is the director of food and nutrition at Cooper Hospital–we all have an image of how hospital food tastes– but she’s changing that with a commitment to buying from local farms and a chef to showcase the produce.

It began first in the employee cafeteria with some menu changes.

“If you had steamed green beans now you are going to have steamed green beans with cashews,” she says.  “No more steamed carrot coins you would have roasted carrots which are so yummy the Brussels sprouts have a little honey and walnuts and they are roasted and they are sweet and really good.”

As anyone who has tried to make some nutritional changes at home knows, not everyone is going to be on board with the whole menu. There’s some resistance at first.

Says Cassidy, “They wanted plainer food some people absolutely but that was the  minority. We did track our vegetable consumption before and after and it went up 458% to be precise, so we knew we were on to something then.”

Well, yes, vegetables ….but they haven’t totally taken over fried and salty!

“We actually have chips that are not packaged but you can buy them by the ounce and they are still the real thing so we all cheat now and then”, says Cassidy laughing.

There’s a trickle down to changing the system — adding new elements to the program over time.  A staff farm share is available to conveniently cook healthfully at home and a  weekly farm stand at the hospital is open to the public. Last year saw the development of a staff/community garden in Camden.

To achieve all this, a few things had to fall into place. Cooper’s CEO gave it high priority by signing the Healthy Food Pledge, while at the same time Fair Food and Common Market in Philadelphia were working to create a strong distribution network between farmers and institutions.

Cassidy explains, “Common Market went to the farms brought the food back to their distribution center and then they were able to deliver to us all the foods that they picked up from local farms.”

“The first time we put out asparagus and we always put the farm name, I got an email from someone who said that’s my cousin’s farm,” recalls Cassidy. “That’s what we want to hear.  It’s local, we are keeping the local economy going … helping anyway… and we are eating the food that our neighbor grew.”

So, let’s add this all up: an employee cafeteria with fresh, local wholesome foods;  local farm produce for some patient meals; a convenient farm share for employees; a weekly farmer’s market for the staff and community; and a community garden. The sum total is healthier food for the hospital and the community all while providing a good bottom line for the farmer. Ka-ching!


Photo by Flickr user zmtomako

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Move Over, Kale Chips! Kale Buds Are Here

By Lari Robling - April 18th, 2012

High Tunnel farming caught my eye because its extended growing season adds to the amount of local produce we get. While farm manager Aviva Asher was tidying up the winter crop to make way for spring, I discovered another benefit of local growing: use what you’ve got.

More wisdom »

December 2014
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