Hospitals to highlight local foods, host farmers' market
By JOHN O'CONNELL
MERIDIAN, Idaho -- Tim Sommer has a large new buyer of his fresh herbs and assorted greens.
Sommer also appreciates that the new customer, St. Luke's Health System, will be promoting products from his Purple Sage Farms in Middleton.
As part of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture's Idaho Preferred Program, the health care provider launched Farm to St. Luke's this month. St. Luke's has vowed to emphasize local foods on its menus at its locations in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Magic Valley, Nampa and Wood River.
Signs are placed in St. Luke's cafeterias noting the local food of the month. St. Luke's will feature local food in its monthly healthy cooking demonstrations, and a farmers' market will be hosted at the Meridian location later in the summer.
St. Luke's has 10,000 employees within its system and served 42,289 patient meals during April.
"I sure like that Idaho Preferred has tried to do things that directly benefit us, something really tangible that can result in direct orders being placed," said Sommer, who operates a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse.
Sommer is the featured grower in the program's initial month and has been invited to discuss herbs May 16 during a demonstration by the Meridian facility's chef. Idaho Preferred is also collaborating with Chef Mark Owsley from St. Luke's in Twin Falls on a cooking show series featuring local products, to be aired on the local NBC affiliate. The first show will air at 6:45 a.m. May 22.
The goal of Idaho Preferred is to promote Idaho food and help producers find markets for their products, explained the manager of the ISDA program, Leah Clark. Clark said a St. Luke's official was in the audience during a presentation about ISDA's Farm to School program, also part of Idaho Preferred.
"They approached us and said, 'Could we do a Farm to St. Luke's program?' It's a substantial market for local producers," Clark said.
Clark said St. Luke's was already doing a good job of using local products, such as onions and potatoes.
"I can see more local grapes, more local melons, plums and greens in salads because they're more aware of those products," Clark said.
Stephanie Kathan, St. Luke's retail supervisor in Meridian, said the medical system is now working with 30 local vendors of varying sizes on a daily basis. Kathan said the program will be offered year-round, with foods that aren't seasonal, such as local beef, featured during winter.
"Our hospital mission is to serve the community, and as we get into food service, yes our priority is our patients, but we want to get a step beyond that," Kathan said.
Clark said Idaho Preferred is also working with University of Idaho to incorporate more local products in student meal programs and the College of Western Idaho Culinary School to emphasize local products to chefs in training.