Local Farms' Bounty Feeds Roswell Park Patients, Visitors and Employees

Thursday, June 7, 2018 - 9:00am

This year’s lingering winter may have delayed the growing season in Western New York, but soon the first harvests from local farms will arrive in the kitchen at Roswell Park — fresh asparagus, lettuces and kale. As summer comes on, crates of tomatoes, corn, onions, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, squash and other produce will follow — a rainbow of ingredients that will be transformed into healthy dishes for the inpatient menu and the Sunflower Café.

Now in its second year, Roswell Park’s Farm to Hospital program helps support local farmers. But there’s an even greater benefit for patients and visitors, says Christina Dibble, Director of Nutrition and Food Services: Fruits and vegetables grown on local farms tend to be more nutritious than produce shipped from across the country, because they get to your plate faster.

“When we purchase lettuces that are coming across the country from California or Florida, every day that produce is transported, it’s breaking down. I want to know how much time it takes from when it’s picked to when it arrives at my back door. The smaller that window of time, the more nutritious the food is.”

Dibble says she has asked Roswell Park’s produce vendor “to not only identify for us the produce that’s local but also what farms it’s coming from. It’s something people are asking for.

“We get a weekly communication from our produce company that shows what’s available locally, based on the harvest. It's all driven by the weather. Using that information, the chef and I meet to plan the cafeteria menu.” That’s when their culinary creativity kicks in, producing such dishes as a blend of local vegetables in a delicious ratatouille.

“For the inpatient menu, three times a week we offer a special ‘chef’s choice,’ and we try to include local produce in those dishes when the season is in full swing. That’s in addition to our regular room service menu,” says Dibble. For June, she and the manager have planned a locally sourced vegetable of the day to accompany such specials as the pulled pork. They hope to begin using local produce in other selections on the inpatient menu as well.

Providing a wide variety of fresh, local produce isn’t possible year-round in Buffalo’s climate, but in the past Dibble has purchased local tomatoes grown hydroponically (indoors, in water instead of soil), and she may expand the shopping list in the future.

Farm to Hospital has earned praise from both patients and visitors — and Dibble says she and her team are looking down the road to exciting new plans for the program. Like the fresh fruits and vegetables she and her team bring into the Roswell Park kitchen, “it’s just going to grow.”