Food & Farm Feature: What’s going on in the field?

March 3, 2016  

Making Farm to Institution Work at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, WV

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Barbara E. Hartman MS, RDN, LD, a longtime supporter of the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, generously donated time away from her busy day as Chief of Nutrition and Food Service at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia to speak with us about the successful local food program at that VA Medical Center.

As many of you know, the Coalition introduced the SB 390: Local Procurement Bill this legislative session. The bill intended to provide an eight percent price preference for farmers in West Virginia selling to state agencies. Additionally, the bill proposed that state agencies reach a procurement goal of sourcing at least 15% of all food from within West Virginia by 2025, both measures creating an economically viable market for farmers in West Virginia. Unfortunately, Senator Blair neglected to add the bill to the Government Organization Committee agenda last week. Despite the unfortunate ending to SB 390, Ms. Hartman shares with us the inspiring story of a farm to institution program in West Virginia.

Familiar with the national farm to school program, Ms. Hartman went to the “drawing board” in 2006 with the determination to apply farm to school to the VA Medical Center. After failing initially in 2006, the local food program successfully started in 2008 with the support of an established aggregator, Kilmer’s Farm Market, and a contract with US Foods that encourages the Nutrition and Food Service to procure produce, milk, and bread from small businesses. Derek Kilmer, the owner of Kilmer’s Farm Market, allowed for the VA Medical Center to expand the quantity and diversity of product they could source from producers within 50 miles. Although, Ms. Hartman notes that they “typically have local produce from less than 25 miles since [they] are in an agricultural area and also are lucky to have orchards.” In fiscal year 2015, the VA Medical Center “spent over $28,000 on product grown in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia” (Hartman 2016).

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Far beyond the value of the dollar, kitchen staff are developing valuable and meaningful relationships with farmers that allows for effective communication on quality control and a sense of accountability that the current food system neglects by alienating the producer and consumer.

A program that emerged out of the ideals and determination of Ms. Hartman, as she “couldn’t not try”, received three national sustainability awards, received recognition from President Obama, and continues to support the VA Medical Center’s nationally recognized Green Kitchen Program. Through the local food program, the VA Medical Center Nutrition and Food Service is supporting farmers in West Virginia, reducing food waste, providing clients, stakeholders, and staff with high quality food, and building community.