When it comes to finding the freshest veggies and fruits for Lahey Hospital & Medical Center cafeterias, one need look no further than local farms.
As part of a new program, Sodexo — which manages LHMC food services — is buying produce from Massachusetts farms as it becomes available throughout the growing season.
“We’ve been doing this since the beginning of June and it will continue through the fall. So as new produce becomes available as crops come in, we’ll have the freshest local fruits and veggies and create dishes to feature them,” said David T. Cox, LHMC executive chef.
For example, a couple of weeks ago an abundance of local strawberries were delivered and the team had to find creative ways to use them while at the peak of freshness, Cox explained. “We had a strawberry shortcake bar, strawberry salad, and strawberries in all the fruit cups for the patients and staff. Then the local strawberry supply dried up, so now we have broccoli, cauliflower, pea shoots, alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts. Next up is probably going to be zucchini and tomatoes. We’ll get corn a little later, then peaches and apples. As it grows, we’re bringing it in and serving it to our patients, visitors and colleagues,” he said.
This pilot program is a big step toward the buy-local movement and promotes sustainability, said salad bar attendant Daniel Gougin. “Not only does it mean that we are getting fresh produce that’s local and that people can relate to, it reduces the number of steps between here and there, reducing the gas mileage and the fossil fuels that are used,” he said. “It’s great for sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint.”
In addition to buying from Massachusetts farms, Sodexo is contracted with one farm to grow just baby lettuce and baby spinach. “We get those in every Monday and Wednesday and you’ll see it on the salad bar all summer and at the exhibitions stations, where we have daily specials,” Cox said.
In addition to the local produce program, LHMC has changed to a compostable cardboard box for the daily special station and paper cups for beverages. “Another thing we are trying to do is to limit bottled water by offering water in dispensers through our catering department,” said Richard Delacy, LHMC retail operations manager.
The cafeteria has placed “I’m a Local” signs to let customers know what farm produced the produce.
“Everybody loves it. It’s fresh, it’s local, you support the local economy, it’s not sitting in a truck coming from California or Florida. It was probably picked two days ago and you are eating it now.” Cox said.