The Food and Nutrition Department’s Wellness Initiative is continuing to develop this summer with an innovative partnership with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC) through its Puget Sound Food Network (PSFN) project to bring local foods to UWMC. The new partnership is a big step in the Wellness Initiative, a project with the goal of bringing healthier, more organic, local, and sustainable foods to UWMC’s patients and to the Plaza Café’s customers. The first purchase from the network, per Chuck Zielinski, director of Food and Nutrition, was one hundred pounds of blueberries from Bow Hill Blueberries in Bow, Washington. The blueberries are on sale in the Plaza Café and are featured in the Center Dining Room Service’s offerings for patients this summer.
“The Medical Center is the first hospital in Seattle to join PSFN’s members,“ states Lucy Norris, Director of Marketing for NABC, an organization that connects local farmers with food businesses such as hospitals, learning centers, and senior services. It is beneficial for large buyers because it allows them to buy quality produce and local foods in the quantities they need while reducing the logistical difficulties of purchasing from many small vendors. PSFN brings farmers together to make sure demands of large buyers are met. Each week, farmers publish the produce they have available to a new website called Farm to Table powered by Local Orbit. From the site, buyers such as UWMC Food and Nutrition Services can browse all of the local offerings and purchase their products of interest.
There is also great benefit for local farmers. Norris says, “We are providing an opportunity for farmers to start working more closely with public health and healthcare and are helping them professionalize farming so they can compete in today’s marketplace.” Farmers who were previously unable to sell to large buyers are now joining forces with other local farmers to meet the demands of these larger businesses. Through NABC’s marketing assistance in the food network, local farmers stay profitable and are less vulnerable to market fluctuations.
The hospital’s active participation in PSFN is the latest step in Food and Nutrition’s Wellness Initiative. The Wellness Initiative is one way the department is helping the Medical Center achieve its mission of providing exceptional patient- and family-centered care in an environment of education and innovation. Started over a year ago by director, Chuck Zielinski, and aided by Healthy Food in Health Care, the project has made many positive changes to food service at UWMC. A group jovially known as the “Healthy Committee” made up of Zielinski, managers, dietitians, and a lead chef meet regularly to bring up new ideas, taste test, and make decisions on the best products to add to the menu. “We’re able to provide healthier options while educating our patients on what we’re providing,” says Healthy Committee dietitian, Beth Marcondes, MS,RD,CD, “We have a lot of oncology patients asking for more organic foods and now we’re excited we can provide it to them.”
The partnership with NABC and involvement in PSFN is a big step in the Wellness Initiative’s goal to provide exceptional foods to the Medical Center community but by no means is the project complete. “We are constantly improving so we can have the freshest food possible,” says lead chef Mario Ministerio. “We are committed to quality while maintaining the safety of food for our patients.”
Watch for other healthy changes from the Wellness Initiative in the Plaza Café, including Meatless Mondays, Farm Fresh Fridays, monthly farmer’s markets, and organic and local offerings. Or take a look at a patient menu for more whole grains, fiber, organic and local offerings, and vegetarian items. Great things are happening in the Center Dining Room Service and in the Plaza Café. Please come down to the Plaza Café and enjoy!