In 2006, Diane Imrie, Director of Nutrition Services, and the management team at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vermont, signed the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge for fresh, local, sustainable food. Now they are nationally recognized leaders in the relationship of food to environmental, agricultural, and health issues. They have opened a new café with the goal of having the most sustainable menu in health care in the country, developed an educational component, incorporated sustainable construction practices, and received a federal grant to foster food partnerships in Vermont and across the U.S. Slow Money investment in partnerships such as these could increase the quality and quantity of local food services to health care facilities.
The Harvest Café opened in May, 2009, to staff and visitors with a menu that includes such items as local squash and soy milk, locally-raised ground beef, chicken and turkey raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics and arsenical compounds, lots of vegetarian choices, seafood almost entirely from North America, and organic fair trade coffee. Every item of the menu requires diligent research and new partnerships with the local farming community. Sustainable fish, for example, cannot be caught in Alaska and then shipped to China for packing. They are now involved in production planning with several local farms to project future needs.
As Vermont’s academic medical center, education is a key component. A display case identifies every product as either sustainable or recyclable. The menu and a digital display highlight sustainable choices and local growers. Summer and winter CSAs are available on site to employees.
The site of the Harvest Café is even in keeping with the sustainability philosophy. They have a garden of tomatoes and herbs, and are bee-keepers. A green roof is being designed that will support grape arbors, a vegetable garden, blueberries, currants, and meadow grasses. They have also reduced energy consumption by choosing equipment that has higher energy ratings, and have built a “free cooling” walk-in refrigerator that pulls in cold air from the outdoors during the colder months, the first of its kind in any Vermont hospital. They have reduced construction waste by reusing ceiling tiles in other parts of the hospital, and choosing sustainable building materials. They have donated equipment and material to a local youth fund that provides summer lunch and after-school food programs to Vermont youth.
At the Fletcher Allen 500-bed hospital, most patients have room service. Because they call when they are hungry and choose from an appropriate menu of sustainable foods, they are more likely to enjoy what they have chosen and produce much less waste.
In May, 2009, Fletcher Allen announced receipt of a federal grant for the development of the “Center for Nutrition and Healthy Food Systems” which will act as an educational entity between health care and the New England food system, fostering partnerships with local farmers and educating other health care institutions in Vermont regarding how to build a sustainable food service. The work will culminate in a workshop designed to share what they have learned with health care leaders from across the U.S.
Finally, Diane Imrie and Harvest Café chef, Richard Jarmusz (pictured in the Fletcher Allen herb garden), have made their appreciation of local, sustainable, four-season food available to all of us in their recently published cookbook, Cooking Close to Home.