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Hospitals Join Other Institutions in Summer Farm Tour Series
In January of this year many hospitals in the Portland Metro area joined other institutions as members of an Institutional Food Buyers Alliance co-convened by the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The Alliance works to support institutions in sharing best practices, leveraging combined purchasing power to communicate demand for local, sustainable products, and developing and implementing a set of purchasing goals and guidelines, metrics, model purchasing language, and incentives that promote the purchase of sustainable, regional food.
The Oregon PSR Healthy Food Program received a grant to work with a subset of Alliance members on a Oregon grown purchasing project, focused on increasing purchasing of Oregon grown fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. As part of this project participants were invited to take part in a summer series of farm, distributor and processor tours. On July 25th large institutional food buyers, including Oregon Health & Science University and Providence Portland Medical Center/Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, had the opportunity to learn more about the operations of Organically Grown Company (OGC) and Siri and Son Farms.
Temperatures outside were warm but the thermostat inside the OGC warehouse was turned way down. Tour participants were led by Billy Lakey, Sales Development Manager, to multiple different rooms housing fresh, safely held organic fruits and, vegetables. Organically Grown Company is an organic produce distribution business founded by farmers in 1982. Now owned by employees and growers, the company still has a mission of supporting sustainable growers, purchasing nearly 90% of their produce directly from farmers.
Strolling through the aisles of melons, mushrooms, potatoes, and more we noticed that many of the products came from Oregon farms. Bill indicated that as the growing season progresses, upwards of 85% of their produce will come from farms in Oregon, Washington and the very tip of northern California. Because of regulations around organic agriculture, OGC has sophisticated tracking systems in place that allows both their company and its customers to know exactly which farm (and even which field) their produce is coming from.
From the cool produce warehouse the tour moved along to the bright, hot fields of Siri and Son Farms in Damascus. Bordered by housing developments on two sides and Highway 212 on another, Siri and Son Farms is a picture perfect description of a farm facing urban growth and development. Fourth generation farmer, Joe Siri, walked us through fields of organic cabbage explaining the history of the 400 acre farm (divided by three sites), the upwards 30 crops he grows, and some of the challenges he faces.
As our region grows and the places we build new homes expands, farms are one of the many entities that feel first hand this impact. Many individuals interested in a moving to more rural locations may think living next to a farm will be a scenic and idyllic country life existence. While in many ways it is, make no mistake, a working farm at times can be loud, dusty, and anything but the quiet country life city dwellers may be seeking. Acknowledging that problems can arise, Siri and Son Farms works hard to be a good neighbor and have a positive relationship with those that live around him.
The majority of produce Siri and Son Farms grows goes to Organically Grown Company. However to meet the demand of OGC, Siri and Son has to grow more than OGC buys to ensure that they can always meet their needs. Often this leaves the farm with extra produce on their hands. They could ship it up and sell it in organic markets in other areas such as California but the cost of doing that is more than just selling it into the conventional market in our region. This option does not allow them to recoup some of the higher cost of organic production practices and many customers, sadly, are not aware of the high quality, sustainable product they are purchasing.
If your facility is purchasing produce from Organically Grown Company or buys Lady Bug brand produce, you may very well be serving up Siri and Son Farms produce in your cafeteria and in your patience meals. You can learn more about the farm on their website or from Fred Meyer, another proud purveyor of their products.
There are still two tours and a culinary training coming up this summer. If your facility has interest in attending the tours, trainings or becoming an Alliance member, please contact Gretchen Miller – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Tours and Trainings:
Poultry: Reasons to Care How Your Birds are Grown
Each year the United States produces more than 43 billion pounds of poultry. Roughly 8 billion chickens are consumed every year by individuals in our country. Annual per capita consumption of poultry has been on the rise since the 1960’s, increasing from 41 pounds in 1965 to more than 100 in 2011. Most poultry is raised in large “houses” that hold 25,000 to 30,000 birds. Conditions are generally overcrowded and breeding grounds for bacteria and disease. Those huge numbers have led many to wonder, what’s the impact of all those birds? And what has been found is startling.
Most are aware that poultry is a great source of lean protein as well as full of B vitamins, zinc, iron and magnesium, to name of few of its nutritional power punches. Few, however, are aware that the majority of the poultry in this country is also served up with a hefty dose of arsenic. Since the 1940’s the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of arsenic in poultry feed (it is also used in swine production). This common industry practice is done to promote weight gain, improve feed efficiency, add pigmentation (i.e., make meat pinker), and prevent and control disease. Exposure to arsenic carries many significant risks including increased risk of cancer, birth defects, decreased intellectual capacity, diabetes, heart disease and antibiotic resistance through horizontal gene transfer.
Arsenic is an element so does not disintegrate and, once introduced, stays in and moves through soil, air, and water. This leads to significant environmental health issues. Poultry litter is often used for fertilization – applied to farm soils, home gardens, golf courses, and more. Arsenic from the litter/fertilizer can leach into groundwater contaminating drinking and irrigation water sources. Poultry litter is also burned as a bio-fuel and fed to cattle, creating more opportunities for arsenic to enter into the environment and ultimately into humans.
In 2009 Oregon PSR signed onto a petition asking the FDA to ban the use of arsenic in animal feed. Since then, the agency has made no action regarding the petition. To force an agency response Oregon PSR has joined eight other environment, public health, agriculture, and food safety organizations in a lawsuit calling for immediate withdrawal of arsenic from animal feed. You can learn more about the lawsuit here: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/2161/fda-ignores-toxic-arsenic-in-animal-feed.
In addition to arsenic the majority of the poultry in the United States is produced with antibiotics, many medically important to human health. More than 80% of all antibiotics in this country are used in animal agriculture – not to treat disease but to prevent disease caused by poor living conditions and to promote growth. This gross overuse and abuse of these drugs is contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans, one of the biggest health crises currently faced by the health care sector.
Partnering with Health Care Without Harm, the Healthy Food Program has worked with both hospitals and health care professionals to lend their voice to the policy discussions surrounding this issue. Nearly 800 health professionals signed onto a letter delivered to President Obama in early June asking him to pressure the FDA to act on stalled rules limiting the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Additionally, a number of bills are moving through Congress that would both limit the use of and require better reporting of the use these antibiotics.
As frequent first responders to the impacts of how our food is produced and as large purchasers of food, hospitals, and the health care sector at large, is in an important position to voice concerns with unsustainable and unhealthy practices and shift their purchasing dollars to products that support the health and well-being of people and the planet. There will be opportunities to weigh in on current bills and related issues in the near future. Please contact Gretchen Miller or Emma Sirois for more information and keep an eye out for Action Alerts in your inbox.
Tools & Resources:
Distributor Welcome Kit (located at bottom of Hospital Purchasing Guides): As hospitals across the country continue to increase procurement of sustainable food to serve in their patient meals and cafeterias many are looking to their traditional supply chains to meet their demand as well as help track their progress towards their purchasing goals. Effectively communicating what products you are looking for and what you want tracked is essential to success. The Distributor Welcome Kit was created to help start conversations with hospital distributors around these issues.
Millions in U.S. Subsidies Go to Dead Farmers. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Agriculture Department lacked the proper controls to make sure the money it sent was going to the right people.
As biotech seed falters, insecticide use surges in corn belt. Across the Midwestern corn belt, a familiar battle has resumed, hidden in the soil. On one side are tiny, white larvae of the corn rootworm. On the other side are farmers and the insect-killing arsenal of modern agriculture
MRSA: Farming Up Trouble. Microbiologists are trying to work out whether use of antibiotics on farms is fuelling the human epidemic of drug-resistant bacteria.
FDA says importers must audit food safety. More than two years after Congress passed a landmark law meant to prevent the importation of contaminated food that sickens Americans, the Food and Drug Administration proposed rules on Friday that for the first time put the main onus on companies to police the food they import.
Weedkillers tied to depression in farmers. Farmers who used weedkillers were more than twice as likely to be treated for depression than farmers who didn't use the chemicals in a new study from France.
6th – Oregon PSR - Hiroshima, Nagasaki & Hanford: A Tragic Connection – 6:00PM-7:00PM (Portland, Oregon – Portland Waterfront at NW Naito and NW Couch)
13th - Friends of Family Farmers InFARMation – 5:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
15th – Norpac Farm and Processing Plant Tour – 8:00AM-1:00PM (Stayton/Salem Area) 28th – Institutional Food Purchasing Culinary Training – 9:00AM-3:00PM (Portland, Oregon – Oregon Convention Center – RSVP Required)
10th – Stahlbush Island Farms Tour – 12:30PM-6:00PM (Corvallis Area)
10th - Friends of Family Farmers InFARMation – 5:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
8th - Friends of Family Farmers InFARMation – 5:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)