Serving Locally Grown Food in the LMA

You swing by the hospital cafeteria after a routine doctor appointment and figure you’ll grab whatever relatively healthy fast food you can find, when what to your famished eyes appear but locally grown produce and fresh native grilled fish!

Sound like a pipe dream? Well, not so. More and more hospitals and universities are working diligently to bring locally sourced food to their cafeterias as the demand for healthier and sustainable food options grows.

Getting to a sustainable and locally grown menu, however, is not without challenges, and addressing  those challenges was the topic of the 2nd Farm to LMA Forum held last month at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and organized by MASCO’s sustainability committee.

After an impressive presentation by UMASS Dining Executive Director Ken Toong (UMASS Amherst is rated in the top 5 nationwide for using locally grown foods) participants asked a panel of food vendors and procurement experts how to manage certain roadblocks to serving locally gown food.

Q:  How do we begin the process of introducing locally grown food sources and address the “it will hurt the bottom line” question?

A:   ID Stakeholders in the organization and galvanize interested parties. Students are particularly interested in advancing the topic and are great organizers. Bring in guest chefs to demonstrate how to create satisfying meals with local foods. Set small goals and promote achievements. Organic and local foods can be chosen based on the season, mixed into the menu and it is cost neutral.

Q:  What are some strategies to use local while keeping costs neutral?

A:  Low hanging fruit – meaning use fresh, local seafood and reduce use of red meat. Create partnerships with food aggregators or growers’ association to discuss procurement and accessing seasonal foods through your distributors. Local does not always equate to more expensive.

Other takeaways included:

  • Engage leadership early on in the conversations and cultivate support from all ends of the organization.
  • Set smaller goals like 10% use of local and sustainable foods for the first 2 years.
  • Track sales and expenses and promote results.
  • Use feedback forms to promote satisfied customers.
  • “Micro-advertising” of where food comes from can create an institution-wide buzz around healthy changes.
  • Incorporate composting to reduce waste and keep costs low.

MASCO’s sustainability committee is committed to supporting greener and more efficient ways to operate our institutions and is always looking for topics to tackle. We welcome your feedback and suggestions.