Sacramento Businesses Can Embrace Farm-to-Fork: How Kaiser Permanente Does Just That

By Chyresse Hill, Kaiser Permanente

Eating farm-to-fork food in Sacramento isn’t just about restaurants and regular farmers markets – Kaiser Permanente now hosts more than 50 farmers markets and farm stands across the country, with three in Sacramento and more in the surrounding region, and it showcases how businesses can be involved in healthy eating.

The fresh food programs fit with Kaiser Permanente’s goals of being a champion of making fresh produce available to its members, employees and communities.
There are farmers markets hosted seasonally at several Sacramento medical centers, including Sacramento Medical Center, Point West Medical Office Building, and South Sacramento Medical Center, as well as sites in Roseville and Lincoln.

At Kaiser Permanente, it’s all about prevention. A healthful diet can significantly benefit one’s long-term health. That’s why Kaiser Permanente is working to bring fresh, local produce to its members, employees and the communities it serves.

“We recognize that locally grown food from family farms is less taxing on the environment and ultimately healthier for those who grow and eat the food,” said Jan Villarante, Kaiser Permanente’s director of national nutrition, “and, we’ve seen overwhelming evidence that when people have access to farmers markets, they will take advantage of the market produce and increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

Cooking demo in SSC employee garden 2013 006

A survey published in the online peer-reviewed Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (Vol. 2, Issue 2, Winter 2011/2012), found that 74 percent of patrons surveyed at Kaiser Permanente markets consume more fruits and vegetables as a result of shopping at the market, and 71 percent indicated that they were eating a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.

When it comes to farm-to-fork foods, Kaiser Permanente takes it beyond the farmers markets available to the public and serves as an example of how businesses in Sacramento can take advantage of the region’s ability to cultivate food year-round.

Kaiser Permanente has encouraged physicians and staff to flex their green thumbs by growing their own fruits and vegetables while at work. Several medical centers, including sites in South Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Davis and Elk Grove, have employee gardens where staff have watered, weeded and then harvested a bounty of tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, basil, watermelon, and corn, among other crops. They can share the food with their colleagues or take it home to their families.

The employee garden at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento recently hosted a demonstration where local chef Jon Wheeler picked vegetables and cooked them right there at a garden cooking station. The goal was to show how easy it can be to eat fresh, healthy food.

In addition to hosting farmers markets and growing employee gardens, Kaiser Permanente also promotes sustainable food and agriculture by increasing sourcing of local and sustainably produced food in its hospitals, cafeterias and vending machines. For example, about 190 tons of the fruits and vegetables (nearly 50 percent of all fresh produce that Kaiser Permanente purchases each year) served on patient menus across the organization are sustainably produced. To meet this definition, the produce must be either grown within 250 miles of the Kaiser Permanente facility or certified as sustainably produced by a third-party eco-label.

Kaiser Permanente is America’s leading integrated health plan providing quality, affordable health care to its members and employees. It is a nonprofit health and wellness organization whose care extends far beyond the health of its 9 million members. Kaiser Permanente’s mission is also to help improve the health of the communities it serves.