Dining programs and local food initiatives at health care facilities have been impacted in a variety of ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reduced visitation combined with unexpected PPE costs, a drastic reduction in outpatient procedures, slashed budgets, and overburdened staff have caused some facilities to place their local procurement initiatives on hiatus. However, there are facilities exploring ways to further leverage their farm-to-institution initiatives to expand their constituents' access to fresh, locally produced foods at a time when household food procurement presents unique challenges.
This brief highlights how healthcare facilities implemented and expanded local food initiatives during the pandemic as a means to effectively feed and care for healthcare constituents while also investing in the local food economy. Specifically, by leveraging existing partnerships and value chains, healthcare organizations moved quickly to serve their stakeholders through onsite retail (e.g. grocery) locations and expanded community supported agriculture (CSA) or produce subscription programs while continuing to support local food producers whose markets were also impacted by the pandemic.
Healthcare organizations report both success and significant positive impact of on-site retail and produce subscription programs both among healthcare constituents and local food producers. These initiatives underscore the value of long term, collaborative value chain partnerships between healthcare organizations and their local food partners, and the significant power embedded in anchor institutions to support the health of their community and the resilience of local food economies.