By Portia Boggs, Associate Director of Philanthropy, Local Food Hub
Morrison buys locally-sourced food to serve patients and guests at more than 700 hospitals and healthcare facilities across the nation. But its work with Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, Va., really shows how it’s become a difference maker.
At the University of Virginia Health System, Morrison purchases a wide variety of produce from the Local Food Hub, including jumbo and mini-apples, Mountain View cheese and stone ground wheat use for whole wheat pizza dough. Morrison is one of our largest purchasers when measured by the number of people fed.
Local Food Hub has worked with Morrison since 2010 to provide locally-sourced food. As a nonprofit food distributor, we work with more than 60 local farms to increase access to local food. We believe that everyone, regardless of income or socioeconomic status, should have access to fresh, healthy food, and that communities are strengthened when small farms serve as an integral food source for that community. As a result, we have re-invested millions of dollars in the local economy since our founding in 2009.
How to Bridge the Gap for Local Farmers
Small local farmers face many challenges in getting their product to the larger market. We help them bridge these gaps in several different ways:
Many small farms struggle to produce at levels high enough for wholesale. Local Food Hub addresses this by aggregating produce from multiple farms for sale into the wholesale market.
Regulations require farms to align their practices with government-mandated standards. These standards are often costly and time-consuming to navigate. Local Food Hub assists by helping farms understand their expectations, and providing training and cost-share when possible.
Delivery and sales take valuable time away from the field. Local Food Hub purchases food outright and assumes all liability for selling and delivering product.
Small-scale farming typically has a small profit margin. Local Food Hub believes in fair compensation. It pays its farmers 3 times the industry average, and more promptly than the conventional marketplace.
Nearly a decade ago, we started working with Morrison at UVA Health System.
While our growers aren’t provided specific information on where their product is delivered, they know they are accessing a larger market than they could on their own. Corey, the senior food and nutrition director at UVA, also uses the Local Food Hub for specialty items, including local vinegars and honey.
Now that we have a firm foothold, we hope to continue to expand. There is a plenty of untapped potential in large volume and recurring orders, particularly with year-round products such as meat and eggs. There are several ways the system could adapt to be better for all parties.
For example, Local Food Hub works with partner farms on production planning. If we receive a standing commitment from a large institution, we can work with farms to ensure that order will be consistently filled.
However, advance planning from large organizations often isn’t standard practice.
Another change we hope to change is paying farmers in a timely manner. While the current practice is to pay within two to three months of delivery, we’d like to shorten it to 15 days.
Overall, we are optimistic that other large institutions will realize the added value of local food, which supports the local economy, enhances flavor and nutrition, and means we will all have a healthier planet. All of these benefits will serve as a catalyst to prioritize its range of benefits over the simple bottom line.
Consumers vote with their dollars on every purchase. If consumers continue to give priority to locally-sourced food, the system will change. People can also have an impact by advocating for locally-sourced food at their local schools, work cafeterias and grocery stores, and educating others on the benefits of local, and the barriers that small farmers face. After all, supporting institutions such as Local Food Hub directly benefits the small family farms that we serve.
Learn more about Local Food Hub here.
*PS – Morrison Healthcare is a Local Food Hub partner but is not receiving anything in return for this post.
Morrison is a Compass One Healthcare operating division within Compass Group and has more than 1,200 registered dietitians, 300 executive chefs, and 20,000 professional food service team members. Apply for team member or management positions in one of the best companies to work for today.