:: Kaiser serves up local foods

Hospital Food: a Fresh Look
Produce at the Farmers Market at Kaiser Permanente, Oakland
In August, healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente launched a program to bring fresh, locally grown produce to its patients. For six months, 10 small farmers will provide some of the ingredients used in the 5–6,000 daily meals of 19 northern California hospitals.

The pilot program is intended to make hospital operations more sustainable, support the regional economy, and provide a better diet for staff and patients. The partnership benefits the farmers, who earn 20 percent more selling directly to Kaiser than selling to wholesalers. And buying local cuts transportation costs, as well as carbon emissions.

The hospital-farm connection started in 2003, when Kaiser physician Preston Maring had the idea of holding a farmers' market at the Oakland hospital. The market became a popular weekly event. Patients even started scheduling appointments on market days. Within two years, 25 Kaiser hospitals in five states were holding weekly markets.

Other groups are watching to see how Kaiser's experiment goes. If it is successful, the medical departments of Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, and the University of Michigan plan to try similar programs.

“I'm not saying what Kaiser Permanente is doing will affect global warming, and I'm not saying that a post-hip-replacement patient who eats a local tomato wedge is going to go home healthier. And I'm not saying that we're changing the world,” said Maring, in an interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle. “But we're changing our system—and this can grow from there.”