November Farm to Healthcare Conference Brings Together Stakeholders

As the importance of nutritionally dense, minimally processed food becomes more well known, many institutions across the country are changing the way they purchase and prepare food. One of the emerging markets for local food is hospitals and healthcare facilities, where foodservice managers, chefs, dieticians, and administrators are looking for ways to serve fresh, local food to their clients and staff. Montana is no exception. NCAT recently held a Farm to Healthcare conference to bring together interested stakeholders in order to discuss successes and challenges of this market.

The Nourishing People and Sustaining Communities Farm to Healthcare conference brought together over 55 people from around the state to discuss challenges, opportunities, and barriers to serving local food in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Participants ranged from farmers, ranchers, and distributors to hospital dieticians, dietetic interns, and representatives from nonprofits and state agencies. What each participant had in common was an interest in learning more about how to improve the food served in healthcare institutions, while also ensuring that Montana farmers and ranchers can make a profit on their high-quality products.

Jessica Wilcox presenting at Livingston HealthCare

Jessica Wilcox presenting at Livingston HealthCare

Jessica Wilcox, Food and Nutrition Services Manager at Livingston HealthCare, was instrumental in helping NCAT plan the day. She also brought together members of the Park County Food System Council to provide an illustration of the collaboration necessary for a successful food system that can benefit a whole community. A video of the Park County Food System Council panel is available here.

The conference began with a keynote presentation entitled “Sustainable Hospital Food Service: Restoring Health and Prosperity to Rural Montana.” Dr. Alison Harmon of Montana State University presented a statewide view of farm to hospital efforts and opportunities. Jessica Wilcox provided a case study of the work she did at Livingston HealthCare to change the way food was purchased and prepared in her kitchen in order to focus on local items and healthy meals. You can find a video of that presentation here.

Following the keynote address, two separate panels provided perspective on the buyer and producer side of the local food equation. Seth Bostick, the Executive Chef of Kalispell Regional Medical Center, and Emily McKey, the dietician at Village Health Care in Missoula, both spoke of the purchasing needs of their institutions and the opportunities for producers to partner with them for a consistent market. The buyers panel “Incorporating Healthy, Local Food into Healthcare” is available here.

The producers panel was comprised of Shay Farmer, Food and Ag Coordinator at the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center; Dave Prather, the General Manager of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative; and Jenny Scott, the CEO of Montana Highland Lamb. These panelists were able to provide a glimpse into the ways they have worked with healthcare institutions and the advantages and challenges they have encountered. The producers panel “Partnering with Hospitals to Diversity Your Market” can be viewed here.

Seth Bostick, chef from Kalispell Regional Medical Center, presenting

 After lunch, participants visited Livingston HealthCare’s kitchen, where Jessica Wilcox discussed plans for Livingston HealthCare’s new building, which will feature an expanded kitchen. Participants also visited the new site of the Livingston Food Pantry, where Michael McCormick, executive director of the pantry, led a tour of the state-of-the-art kitchen and talked about the way it will serve as a processing space for local farmers as well as a space for classes and community gatherings. The tours provided the chance to see where committed individuals and groups are working each day to bring the freshest and highest quality food to their clients while supporting the work of their local farmers and ranchers.

Farm to School State Leaders Convene: November 18, 2014 Marks First Gathering of Montana Stakeholders

One of the many exciting new developments in Montana farm to school efforts is the creation of a full-time Farm to School Coordinator for our state. Aubree Roth is the new Montana Farm to School Coordinator, and one of her first projects was to form the Montana Farm to School Leadership Team. Farm to school efforts encompass a wide range of activities such as bringing local food into school cafeterias, building and tending school gardens, and offering nutrition and food education in classrooms. Aubree worked with a small group of partners, including NCAT, to plan an initial gathering of stakeholder agencies and organizations for the first Farm to School Leadership Team meeting held in Helena on November 18, 2014.

We recently had a chance to talk with Aubree and learn more about this new group of statewide leaders and their priorities for moving farm to school forward in Montana.

What inspired you to start this Farm to School Leadership Team?

“This team has been in the making for a year or more. The reason the planning committee felt it was really important is that we have so many different stakeholders doing great support work for farm to school and we are not really coordinating very well. We are also not communicating and coordinating very well with agencies that are on the periphery of farm to school, so we want to bring them in to help support farm to school.”

Aubree Roth and participants at the Farm to School Leadership gathering.

Aubree Roth and participants at the Farm to School Leadership Team gathering.

Were there other states or models that you looked to in determining how to optimize statewide coordination?

“An inspiring thing from the national scene is seeing how some of these leadership teams have really made significant progress, which made me realize the need and value of getting this done sooner rather than later. The Colorado Farm to School Task Force and the Minnesota Farm to School Leadership Team stand out as excellent models.”

How did you select who to invite to the initial gathering?

“We selected organizations and agencies that have a statewide influence for farm to school and are key to moving it forward. That said, there are plenty of other stakeholders who are vital pieces of the puzzle, we just can’t have every person involved in farm to school in one meeting. Also, we chose organizations and agencies that can represent a broad base of individuals and interests.”

What were your hopes for the gathering? What are your hopes for the leadership team in general?

“My main hope for that initial gathering was to get commitment and interest in forming a Farm to School Leadership Team. The second priority was to identify goals and priorities with stakeholders to determine what we as a group can do to move farm to school forward. Finally, it was vital to actually increase that collaboration and communication as well as tackle some specific collaborative projects.”

What were the priorities identified by the team at the meeting?

“Participants identified their main priority as forming the Farm to School Leadership Team. The second priority was to increase marketing and resource access. People are interested in doing that through a central farm to school website. The third priority is to increase funding and financial support for farm to school.”

How do these priorities align with your work and goals for the coming years as the new Farm to School Coordinator?

“These priorities align very well with my upcoming work as the Farm to School Coordinator, as coordinating a Farm to School Leadership Team was part of my expanded projects, as well as providing more outreach and guidance.”

What do you think is the main strength of the group based on the first meeting, and how do you plan to utilize that strength moving forward?

“The main strength of the group is that there are so many organizations and agencies that are already supporting farm to school, or are at least aware of it, so we can take the base that has already been built and go from there. We don’t have to start from scratch with this.

Another main strength is that the timing seems really perfect for a lot of these groups, as they are starting to think about how they can participate in farm to school. Moving forward, I would like to utilize the great work they have already done and use that as a way to say “look at all the successes we have already had” and move forward from there. We can also make small changes that won’t cost a lot of time or resources and use that to pave the road for farm to school.”

What do you foresee as challenges for this group, and how do you think they will work to overcome them?

“I think the challenge to any group is the group dynamics and the priorities of each organization and agency. The challenge is how to bring them together in a cohesive way so we can accomplish goals and projects as one team.”

NCAT's Nancy Moore facilitating conversation about statewide farm to school efforts.

NCAT’s Nancy Moore facilitating conversation about statewide farm to school efforts.

What do you see as one of the main strengths of Montana’s farm to school landscape?

“One of our strengths is our agricultural heritage. We have agricultural communities and people really buy into and appreciate what farm to school is trying to do. In many cases, it is not a new thing in these communities. They have just been doing it for a long time through FFA or 4-H in their communities. We have a great base and people are really committed to the concept.”

Where do you see opportunity for growth, improvement and collaboration in Montana as relates to farm to school?

“I am really excited about the Farm to School Leadership Team, because it opens up a great ability to collaborate on farm to school efforts. The upcoming Harvest of the Month program is a tangible way to grow farm to school quickly in a structured yet flexible way, while allowing for partnerships. Another area for improvement is in the policy realm with administrative processes or internal policies that we could change with agencies that could smooth the way. We are at a point in Montana where we have a lot of success stories and a good base and now we can really take that to the next level. These ideas can be used to launch new programs and expand current programs. The opportunities are across the board relating to the classroom, cafeteria, and community components of farm to school.”

If there were one thing you wish state leaders in Montana knew about farm to school, what would it be?

“What I would like state leaders in Montana to know about farm to school is that it does benefit cross-sectors. It can benefit communities through improved health, environmental health, and economic health. It is a great way to impact so many areas of our communities that it just makes a lot of sense. I would also like state leaders to know what farm to school is, so that they know it is not an established program where you contact someone and say “I would like to do it!” Rather, farm to school is built community by community. It is not prescriptive; programs should be built in a way that makes sense for each community.”

Aubree Roth, Montana Farm to School Coordinator

For more information regarding farm to school work in Montana, please contact:

Aubree Roth, Farm to School Coordinator, Montana Team Nutrition Program