Goal is to serve healthiest food available and protect environment, family farms
Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is stepping up its program of supporting Oregon farmers and growers by purchasing more seasonal and local produce and products. The goal is to provide the freshest food possible to patients while also supporting crop diversity, family farms, rural economies and a healthy environment.
"OHSU serves about 7,000 meals every day," said Mike "Chef Mike" Goodrich, OHSU executive chef. We have the economic leverage to contribute to creating a market for local farm products and to promote sustainable agriculture.
"Having OHSU as a buyer has been very important to us," said Tom Herron, owner and grower of Growing Life Farms. "OHSUs business has allowed us to hire more people, grow more diverse crops, including some indigenous heirloom varieties that might otherwise become extinct."
OHSU uses about 130 tons of produce each year to prepare healthy meals for patients, staff and visitors. So far, about 2 percent is from local growers, but now OHSU is poised to purchase more.
"We are ready to purchase as much quality seasonal produce from local farmers as we can timely manage," said Chef Mike. "We are prepared to put our dollars into supporting local farmers and rural economies, and are hopeful well hear from more suppliers."
"It can be intimidating for a small family farm or grower to supply produce directly to such a large buyer like OHSU," said Herron, who also supplies all natural sustainable products to local restaurants. "But Chef Mike at OHSU has simplified it by breaking the contracts into smaller parts that we can manage."
This summer, Growing Life Farms supplied 1,900 pounds of pesticide-free crookneck yellow squash to OHSU kitchens. The farm is also growing beets, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs such as mint for OHSU. This fall, OHSU will also purchase local apples and pears from Gorge growers and during the winter will prepare meals using locally grown kale and chard. Vendors are supplying nuts, bread, dairy products and some fish.
"We are hoping to create a system where we can set up contracts with growers for subsequent seasons. This will allow them to know in advance that there will be a buyer for their locally grown produce and give us the ability to plan for deliveries," said Chef Mike.
While good food is important to good health, OHSU also believes a clean environment is essential for good health. Sustainable approaches to food production, especially those that don't use pesticides, protect Oregon's soils and watersheds. Buying locally also avoids the fossil fuel consumption, air pollution and carbon emissions associated with transporting produce long distances. The average food item on the grocery store shelf has traveled about 1,500 miles, according to Herron.
"And buying local means that more of the money required to produce food is left for farmers and Northwest communities," said Chef Mike. "Plus, the cost is less for OHSU. It's a win-win for everyone."
OHSU's support for sustainable food systems began over a year ago when Chef Mike attended a Portland event hosted by Ecotrust, a local environmental group that connects local chefs and farmers. In addition to buying directly from farmers, OHSU is cooperating with other area hospitals interested in supporting sustainable food systems.
"When I was a boy, my family owned a restaurant. My uncle's farm supplied the produce and the menu reflected the seasons. It seems like people, including our patients and employees, may be ready to get back to that kind of farm-to-plate tradition," said Chef Mike