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.

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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.