This spring, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) is joining a nationwide effort led by the non-profit Health Care Without Harm to build new markets in the healthcare sector for locally produced plant proteins.
More than 39% of Americans are looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets (1). High-protein legume crops, like peas and beans, help meet this consumer demand for more “plant-forward” diets while also benefiting the environment through their role in building healthy farm soils.
Connecting producers of plant-based proteins to nearby hospitals through farm-to-hospital programs can be a win-win for participants — producers benefit from a new market while hospitals advance their mission to promote and protect community health through better diet-based interventions (2).
The success of a farm-to-hospital program hinges on building successful collaborations and sometimes requires restructuring existing contracts or exploring new ones.
“Local food purchasing can be challenging with hospital food supply chains,” says Gail Feenstra of UC SAREP. “But the interest is there: sourcing local fresh foods and plant-based protein is good for diets and for regional prosperity. Hospitals and producers sometimes need someone to help bring them together to figure out how everyone can benefit. That's where this project comes in.”
The project team, which also includes the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Colorado State University Extension and Ecotrust, will be organizing a series of events in the coming year connecting health care representatives with producers in their regions.
These “meet and greets” will give health care representatives an opportunity to share their needs for plant proteins and prepared products they'd like, and arrange special purchasing agreements with local producers.
Project participants will also receive support from Health Care Without Harm and be given access to a suite of Plant-Forward Future resources that will help them to be successful in implementing plant-forward menus.
UC SAREP is recruiting California-based producers, processors and value-added product manufacturers of plant proteins (especially dry pulses and fresh peas and beans) who are interested in learning more about selling to the health care sector.
As part of its mission of sustainability in regional food systems, UC ANR partners with communities to help ensure fresh, local food is finding its way to consumers through a growing number of channels, including farm-to-institution programs.