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D-H Eats Its Veggies: Local, Organic Produce Offered

D-H Eats Its Veggies: Local, Organic Produce Offered

By adding locally grown, organic dishes to retail and patient food services, we’re making it easier for employees and patients to eat healthy, and supporting local businesses that are committed to sustainability.

Deborah Keane, RD, LD

Photo: Blue Ox Farm owner Steve Fulton, left, with D-H Executive Chef Dave Jones.

Once again, your mother was right. Eating vegetables is good for you. And, since meat production is more resource intensive and waste producing, rebalancing our diets towards vegetables –especially those that are locally and organically grown - is also good for the environment. That's why Deb Keane, RD, LD, director of Food and Nutrition Services calls D-H Lebanon's commitment to serve organic vegetables grown by local farmers a "win-win."

"The food we provide is one part of D-H's efforts to build a sustainable health system," says Keane. "By adding locally grown, organic dishes to retail and patient food services, we're making it easier for employees and patients to eat healthy, and supporting local businesses that are committed to sustainability."

While the fairly new practice fits perfectly into D-H's mission, vision and values, it was inspired by zucchini. "In 2012, the owner of Autumn Harvest Farm in Grafton, New Hampshire, called and said they had a bumper crop of zucchini they needed to unload," says Keane. "We bought some, and I thought 'This is great. We can do even more business with local farms.'"

Partnership with Blue Ox Farms

In early 2013, Keane wanted to find other potential vendors so she approached the other farmers that were part of the on-site farmer's market at D-H. Steve Fulton, owner of Blue Ox Farm in Enfield, New Hampshire, followed up on their conversation, which began a successful business. In 2014, Food and Nutrition Services bought over 8900 pounds of produce— a 100 percent increase over the 2013 purchases.

"We had some growing pains at first," says Keane. "The first year we said we'd take red peppers. Our plan was to stuff them but the peppers Blue Ox grew were the wrong shape. Now Steve meets in the winter with William "Dave" Jones, executive chef, James Rice, purchasing manager and Keane. "He tells us what he is planning to grow, and we tell him what we would like to purchase and how much we would need on a weekly basis.  During the growing season, Steve reports on the weekly harvest and we order from that," she says.

"This isn't the first time I've worked with a large organization," says Fulton who also sells organic produce through the Hanover and Lebanon Co-op food stores and area restaurants. "D-H has shown far more commitment to buying local than other partners. It's not just four bunches of radishes."

Fulton credits his D-H account for 5 – 10 percent of his overall business, which is growing in general. "Farming is always a challenge but our business is expanding," says Fulton. "D-H has been a very good addition to a list of customers who are all buying more each year." Blue Ox is set to grow business further through its new farm stand on Route 4 in Enfield.

Employees and patients are also showing enthusiasm for the D-H/Blue Ox partnership. "We've had very positive feedback," says Keane. Numbers back up those opinions. "We've been setting records in hot vegetable sales. I was talking to my peer at The Vermont Medical Center and asked how many servings of vegetables they sell every day. He said 80 to 90. Our record is 995."

To supplement produce needs throughout the year, Keane also sources produce through two local companies; Black River Produce and Upper Valley Produce. Both of those companies are aware of pur goal to source other foods locally, and are now working to supply to D-H. Keane's team is working with the Vermont Center for an Agricultural Economy, which is an organization that sources vegetables from smaller local farmers and partially prepares those items for large institutional use.  They offer items such as local fresh beets that are peeled, local fresh potatoes that are diced for home fries, and local peeled and sliced carrots.

Besides produce, Keane has been purchasing sustainably raised burger from Robie Farms in Piermont, New Hampshire, pork raised in Vermont, and oatmeal and ancient grain cereals grown in Maine. Sources of local, sustainably raised and caught fish is next on her shopping list.

"People really like trying new, fresh food and supporting local businesses," says Keane. "We're going to continue to source more products that are locally and sustainably raised."