March 12, 2014

This April, when the strawberries in Christine Coke’s field ripen, caseloads will be heading north to San Francisco Bay Area hospitals as part of the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project (FFHP). Hospital members of the FFHP are defining local food in a more robust way than the typical food miles definition based on distance from farm to patient tray. Coke Farm is located just 95 miles south of San Francisco, but so are some of the largest strawberry growers in the world, including industry giants like Driscoll and Well-Pict.

In order to support independent family farmers using organic and other environmentally-sound production methods, the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project includes criteria about farm scale and agricultural practices in its definition of local food. The project is in its third year of successful procurement. Between August 2012 to January 2014, four Leadership Team hospitals purchased a total of 66,669 pounds of family-farmed produce. In addition to Coke Farm strawberries, the hospitals have prioritized organic items including butternut squash from Durst Organic Growers, Satsuma mandarins from Capay Valley Farm, and summer squash from Las Hermanas Farm.

By purchasing organic food, hospitals are supporting agricultural methods that are healthier for the land, farm workers, rural communities, and hospital patients, staff, and visitors. A growing body of scientific data demonstrates that many pesticides used in conventional agricultural production are linked with a range of adverse health impacts including cancers, birth defects, neurodevelompental disorders, and reproductive health problems.

The FFHP grew out of the ongoing collaboration of the Bay Area Hospital Leadership Team coordinated by SF Bay Area PSR. SF Bay Area PSR oversees the healthy food in health care work here in CA for Health Care Without Harm. The Leadership Team brings hospitals together to develop innovative foodservice strategies, share successes, and leverage their collective purchasing power to move the marketplace toward sustainability.  Hospital leading the project are UCSF Medical Center, John Muir Health, Washington Hospital in Fremont, and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.  This winter, Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital joined the project. The Farm Fresh Healthcare Project is co-coordinated by Community Alliance with Family Farmers and is made possible by a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit program.