Hospital farmers markets connect communities

Hospitals are answering the local food call by providing fresh produce to employees and community members through farmers markets.

Hospitals have the ability to pay a unique role in driving local food systems by purchasing locally produced food for use in their cafeterias, cafes and even in some patient meals. However, some hospitals are taking this a step further and playing a more active role in the local food system by hosting farmers markets at their facilities. One such hospital is Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich.

For the past five years, Bronson has been offering a bimonthly farmers market to employees and community members. The hospital chose a unique model for the market, deciding to hold the market during the winter season when most markets are closed or have very limited hours.

“We believe that Bronson’s Winter Farmers Market plays a critical role in providing Bronson’s employees and the surrounding community with convenient access to fresh, locally grown and produced food items during the winter months,” said Grant Fletcher, Bronson’s director of food & nutrition, and retail services.

Fletcher helped Bronson get the market started five years ago, and he said they have been growing every year since. While the market is kept relatively small, with anywhere from eight to 11 vendors, Fletcher said he has seen participation from staff and the community increasing. He estimates that between 100 and 125 people participate in the Friday market. The timing of the market was designed so that it would complement the existing Kalamazoo farmers’ market, which operates during the busy summer season.

Metro Hospital in Wyoming, Mich., has developed a popular market in the Grand Rapids region. The market is held during the traditional May-October season. It has become a gathering place for the local community and one of the hospital’s most successful “Live Healthy” community outreach programs. Hospitals can help to connect the public and their staff to a healthy lifestyle that begins with eating fresh local food through initiatives like these farmers markets.

Hospitals are beginning to take a more active role in educating communities and patients on overall health and wellness, and that starts with a healthy diet of local food. Michigan State University Extension is working with hospitals to grow this connection and to help them continue initiatives to source more of their food locally.

For more information on farmers markets across the state, visit the MI Farmers Markets Association Website. To contact an extension educator, visit MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” website and search using the keywords, “community food.”

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