By Tara Kelly
Our part of Vermont doesn’t seem to know how good it is. Sometimes we play down our successes or overlook our progress. Like a younger sibling we compare ourselves to someone larger and stronger and feel we don’t measure up. I base this opinion on the number of times I interact with folks around the state who have a bigger picture view of what’s happening. They look at our area and see successes where we see mediocrity and need for improvement.
The most recent example of this phenomenon occurred in a meeting at the Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC). People often contact me to ask why RRMC is not engaged with local farms and food and wonder how RAFFL can work with them. This particular meeting was the result of one such inquiry from people working around the state to increase local farm purchases by institutions such as hospitals.
My response to these folks was typical of how I respond to this question. I pointed out a few examples of what RRMC is already doing and noted they are doing their best. The inquiring minds from Healthy Food in Healthcare, Vermont FEED, and Vermont Farm to Plate asked me to set up a meeting with leaders at RRMC to learn more.
The guests were clearly excited as they listened to RRMC staff describe the efforts they make to incorporate local foods into their food court offerings. And there are many reasons why they – and us – should be excited.
RRMC buys all of its ground beef through Vermont Quality Meats, a Rutland based distributor that works with small family farms and cheese makers throughout Vermont to provide high quality meats and cheeses. RRMC purchases local dairy products from Thomas Dairy, a Rutland based and family owned dairy processor that sources its milk from several area farms. RRMC also purchases fresh veggies through Black River Produce, which sources its produce from all over the state.
By the time we got to explaining the leadership role RRMC plays in RAFFL’s Farm to Workplace, a program that allows RRMC employees to order and receive fresh farm food right at the hospital, the guests were gushing about how RRMC is doing much more than most other hospitals in Vermont.
It turns out that RRMC is actually in a position to provide leadership and knowledge to other Vermont institutions. They have much to celebrate.
Can more be done? Sure. The rest of our meeting was spent talking about the challenges of getting to the next level. Food safety issues, for instance, are paramount for a hospital that feeds people with immunity issues. There are also costs to control and the need for efficient ordering and delivering systems. Efficiency is key to feeding hundreds of people each day at what is essentially Rutland’s largest restaurant.
But, there is willingness, there is action, and now there is a better connection to some of the statewide resources that are bringing institutions together to learn from one another. This network is using their collective power to demand changes within the food system so they can do more to increase the amount of local products they offer within their menus.
RRMC deserves to brag a little. As can all of us in the region, knowing that our local hospital is one of the shining stars in Vermont working to support community-based agriculture.
RAFFL will be joining RRMC on Thursday, October 24, 2013 from 11 – 1pm in the Food Court. We will be highlighting many of these efforts – including the on-line farmers market RAFFL runs through a partnership with The Vermont Country Store and Green Mountain Power that allows employees at RRMC to order a selection of vegetables, meats, breads, jams, fruits and more for delivery right to their worksite all year-round.
Stop by, see what RRMC is up to, and be proud. Progress is being made and Rutland is at the forefront, not lagging behind.
Tara Kelly is Executive Director of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL). Find out more about RAFFL at www.rutlandfarmandfood.org.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.