According to Blue Hill Memorial Hospital’s manager of dietary services, Barb Haskell, being able to offer local, organic food is “all about relationships.” Over the years the peninsula hospital has purchased fresh produce from a number of local sources, including King Hill Farm, Horse Power Farm, and Five Star Nursery and Orchard. “There are wonderful sources of food in our region,” says Haskell, “but there are also some obstacles to buying locally.” Haskell noted that locally produced, organic food can be much more expensive, and that volume can be tough to predict based on demand, weather, and other factors. Communication can also be an issue, with local farms employing only a few individuals who are often hard to reach because they are in the field.
“I’ve found that working with Quentin “Q” Young of Young’s Farm in Sedgwick has worked really well for us as a hospital. Q and I plan the harvest in advance, so that I have exactly what we need for our patients, staff, and guests,” she explains. In the past, Young’s has supplied the hospital with organic tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, squash and other vegetables. Similarly, Haskell purchases no-spray blueberries from Dan-A-Dew Wild Blueberry Farm in Blue Hill. “I know approximately how many pounds of blueberries we need for the year, and can work with the growers to make sure we are well stocked for the year.”
Haskell recently began working with Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative in North Vassalboro. “There is a fee associated with a cooperative, but the arrangement really helps Maine farmers sell their product, and helps organizations like ours centralize more of our purchasing of organic Maine foods.” The hospital’s first order included certified organic spring dug parsnips, rutabaga, yellow eyed beans, and more.
In addition to produce purchased from local farms and Crown O’ Maine, Haskell tries to promote Maine products whenever possible, including Maine Root handcrafted beverages, local cheeses, and GrandyOats certified organic oatmeal with fruit. “Finding the right sources of the right foods is the first challenge,” she says. “The next challenge is to let my staff, as well as our patients and employees, know about where their food comes from, and why local and organic foods are important to our health and well-being.”
While Haskell prefers organic and local food for her hospital and at home, she recognizes that cost is a barrier for many, and recommends that patients and colleagues consider growing their own food, or visiting farmers markets. “I am putting in my first vegetable garden this year,” she explains, pulling out a Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. “We’ve picked out our seeds. I can’t wait for the first harvest.”