“It’s no secret that some of Livingston’s best food is served at the hospital,” a resident AmeriCorps VISTA member said when asked about the local Farm to Hospital program. The institution’s cafeteria and meal program are recognized for their delicious food, yet they’re also gaining recognition for supporting local agriculture and boosting community health.
Big changes started at Livingston Healthcare in 2007 when Jessica Williams became the Food Service Manager and made it a priority to transition the institution’s menu from pre-prepared processed foods to healthier meals made from scratch. While the institution was rearranging the kitchen set-up to accommodate this switch, Jessie began establishing business relationships with local producers through the Western Sustainability Exchange’s (WSE) Farm to Restaurant Connections program. The program helps connect food buyers with local farmers and ranchers in a variety of ways, including via an annual Commerce Day that gathers interested parties to meet and share resources about selling and purchasing local foods.
Another key resource in getting Livingston’s Farm to Hospital program underway was the institution’s relationship with the county sanitarian. In 2007, Doris Morgan provided considerable knowledge about available local products and helped build trust and transparency between Livingston Healthcare and the county health department.
While Livingston Healthcare is relatively small, serving between 70-120 meals a day, their purchasing has had a sizeable impact on the local agricultural economy. In the 2012 fiscal year 19% of their food was purchased from in-state producers and 4% was from Park County producers. “We have developed some wonderful relationships with our local farmers and producers,” Jessie says of LHC’s Farm to Hospital program. “We continue to strive for improvement in our culinary capabilities, creating flavorful comfort food without compromising nutrition, using local products makes this so much easier!”
Livingston Healthcare has enjoyed many benefits from its Farm to Hospital program but it has also faced its fair share of challenges. One of the greatest obstacles has been getting staff on board with the new menu and food preparation needs. To increase buy-in, Jessie works to provide educational opportunities for staff around the benefits of local, healthy food and requests that staff members contribute to the ever-changing menu with a personal or family recipe. She has found that convincing food service professionals of the value and health benefits of local and organic food can be as difficult as it is important.
In 2012, the Montana Association of Health Care Providers (MHA) recognized Livingston Healthcare’s Farm to Hospital program by awarding the institution the annual Innovation in Healthcare Award. This is the first time the award was granted for achievements in food and nutrition in healthcare. Indeed, the institution has set many precedents with its Farm to Hospital program and continues to serve as a resource and model for other healthcare institutions interested in starting local procurement and healthy menu changes.