Farm to Healthcare
The Farm to Healthcare movement has 2 primary goals:
To ensure those most in need of healthy meals are receiving them.
To channel the vast food budgets of healthcare facilities into our local food system, to fund its growth and vitality.
According to the 2016 Canadian Institutional Foodservice Market Report, Canadian healthcare facilities spend 4 billion dollars a year on food service. If provincial healthcare facilities procured more food from local producers in their area, farmers, fishers, and food producers would have a solid, stable new revenue stream to help them grow, hire more workers, and flourish.
The Need for Farm to Healthcare in Our province
Food First NL is striving to make the healthy choice an easy choice for residents of Newfoundland & Labrador, and to make the local choice an easy choice as well.
Because they feed such large numbers of people daily, hospitals, seniors homes, and other healthcare facilities could make a huge impact on access to healthy, local food.
Our province has the lowest rate of consumption of vegetables and fruit in Canada, and has among the highest rates of diet-linked diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. As a result, healthcare is consistently among our province’s top 2-3 expenditures. It’s easy to make the argument that the food served in hospitals should provide a teaching moment, and demonstrate how quality nutrition is integral to healthy living.
As it stands though, studies have shown that patient tray waste can be as high as 50% in Canadian hospitals. This is largely because of a perception the meal is highly processed, undesirable, minimally healthy, or culturally inappropriate. Whatever the reason for patient rejection of hospital food, it equates to tens of millions of dollars being wasted on hospital food every year. Investing that wasted money into more nutritious, locally sourced meals could curb food wastage, for the sake of hospital expenses and the environment alike, while augmenting the health, recovery, and food literacy of patients.
Using Our Healthcare Industry As An Economic Driver of Our Agriculture Industry
Healthcare facilities purchase and serve an astounding amount of food daily. Channeling that money into local farms, and other food producers, could help the province build a more vibrant, robust food system in NL.
For example, the Central Regional Health Authority is 1 of 4 Regional Health Authorities in the province, and it alone serves approximately 95,000 people in 177 communities, through 45 different healthcare facilities.
Given the sheer volume of food served daily by local healthcare facilities, the procurement of more local food for hospital menus would give farmers more venues to which they can sell their harvests. Increasing their revenues will increase their hiring capacity, and create more local jobs in the agriculture sector.
We need this kind of growth and stimulus in our agricultural sector: Newfoundland used to have thousands of farms, and today it has hundreds. This decrease in the number of farms has not been leveled out by the size or capacity of the farms we do have. As a result, we import the vast majority of our food, especially perishable items like fresh produce, leaving our province vulnerable to food security issues, and paying a higher cost for food.
Launching a Farm to healthcare Pilot in 2019
One of Food First NL’s primary involvements in the provincial government’s Way Forward on Agriculture’s Sector Work Plan is to develop a pilot initiative to serve locally farmed products in public health facilities.
We’re working on this in collaboration with the NL Federation of Agriculture, Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, Department of Health & Community Services, and Department of Children, Seniors, and Social Development, with initial funding support from Growing Forward 2.
A review of successful models of Farm to Health Care initiatives in the country has equipped us to take on this pilot project with confidence that it can be done here, and with knowledge of key best practices to start such an initiative.
We didn’t have to look any further than our neighbor, Nova Scotia. The Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia worked with hospitals and long-term care facilities so they could serve local and sustainable seafood. They consulted with food services staff about menu needs, then connected them with small scale fishers. Four healthcare institutions in Nova Scotia now purchase a significant portion of their seafood from local processors.
We are developing this farm to healthcare pilot project with the goal of scaling out best practices to other healthcare facilities in our province.