Healthy habits

Tuesday, July 31
GREAT BARRINGTON — Yesterday was market day at Fairview Hospital, where the white hallways received their weekly dose of green and played host to a farm kiosk, vegetable crates and sourdough bread tables.

Between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Monday, the hospital holds a small indoor farmers market in the hallway outside the cafeteria. As part of Fairview's healthy and sustainable foods initiative, the market makes healthy, locally sourced and produced foods available to its staff, patients and visitors.

"We're trying to educate our staff that eating healthy is a better choice," said Roger Knysh, director of nutrition and food service at Fairview.

The farmers market first opened at the hospital on June 8, featuring fresh produce from Farm Girl Farm in North Egremont and Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, N.Y. This week, the market grew slightly larger as the hospital invited Berkshire Mountain Bakery to set up stands next to the wooden farm kiosk, which the hospital purchased in late May.

"It's nice to see fresh food in a hospital; it's really the most important medicine there is," said Laura Meister who owns Farm Girl Farm.

According to Meister, between 20 and 25 people shop at the Monday afternoon market each week, most of them hospital employees or visitors. One elderly visitor, passing by the market yesterday, remarked, "That kale is gorgeous; I'll be back later in the week."

Although there is no "later in the week" for the market, this visitor may be happy to know that the hospital now uses local, organic produce all week in its cafeteria and patient meals. This includes arugula, spinach, mescaline and tomatoes from Equinox Farm in Sheffield and braising greens, red leaf and romaine lettuce from Markristo Farm.

Knysh began purchasing from local sources such as these in June as part of the hospital's documented commitment to supporting community agriculture and sustainable food production distribution.

"It's certainly more work," said Knysh, who visited all the local farms himself to inspect their conditions. "In the traditional way of purchase, vendors would send us frozen vegetables. We're not using those any more. Our staff is peeling carrots and potatoes now, cutting, braising and steaming vegetables."

The vegetable scraps are now composted for the first time ever at Fairview and the compost is then taken away three times a week by Ted Dobson of Equinox farms.

"In exchange for our efforts, we receive fresh produce," said Knysh of the Fairview-farm barter system. "Less is going into the garbage, and we're paying less to bring it away."

The hospital was recognized in June by the international organization Health Care Without Harm for being the first hospital in Massachusetts to sign the organization's Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. Fairview signed the pledge on Jan. 10 — and since that time, five other hospitals in the commonwealth have followed suit.

"It sent a signal out to the marketplace that this is something important," said Michelle Gotlieb, New England coordinator for the Health Care Food Project with Health Care Without Harm. "We're sure that that was what helped push some of these other hospitals along."

Shortly after signing the pledge, Fairview's deep-fryer was taken out of the kitchen, along with foods with trans-fats. The kitchen now bakes the french fries and potato puffs it serves. The hospital also began charging customers slightly more for the unhealthy items on the cafeteria's daily menu.

Yesterday's menu featured a foot-long hot dog and a chicken Caesar wrap, the latter highlighted in pink under the heading "healthy choice."

"The hot dog was traditionally a lot cheaper, but we priced it up to keep the chicken Caesar lower," said Knysh.

As of one week ago, the kitchen began using tomatoes harvested from an on-site tomato garden that the hospital's maintenance staff began back in May.

Maggie DelGrande, a food service supervisor, planted tomato plants — donated along with compost by Markristo Farm — and now harvests their fruit regularly. The hospital began sourcing its herbs back in May from Monument Mountain High School agriculture students.

One student, Emilyn Bona, of Otis, transplanted many herbs to her home and continues to supply Fairview with herbs during the summer.

"We are a key employer, and it's a way for us to reach out to the community," said Lauren Smith, director of community relations at Fairview.


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