Making ‘farm to table’ a reality, while supporting local producers. | MedStar Health

Making ‘farm to Table’ a Reality, While Supporting Local Producers.

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Farmer Harlan Hess, of Waynsboro, PA, kneels down amongst his crops and poses for a photo.

Pictured above: Harlan Hess, of Hess Farms in Waynesboro, PA, in his field of vegetable crops.

When farmer Harlan Hess picks a vegetable, it takes less than an hour and 45 minutes to be packed and ready for shipment to local markets, restaurants and organizations like MedStar Health hospitals.

It is the very definition of “farm to table.”

Hess runs Hess Farms, a second-generation, family owned farm in Waynesboro, PA, just north of the Mason-Dixon line. His farm was one of several that partnered with MedStar Health for Buy Local Week (July 22-31), a statewide initiative that encourages Marylanders to eat, drink, and enjoy local farm products.

During Buy Local Week, MedStar Health kitchens and cafés across our system offered fresh, healthy meals using Hess Farms apples, cucumbers, eggplants, and tomatoes. Signs were placed in cafés identifying the meals made with locally sourced foods, the ingredients used, and the farms that produced them. Diners also had the opportunity to purchase fruits and vegetables at a small farmer’s market inside the hospital cafés. Recipe cards were available for associates and visitors to make the recipes at home with the ingredients.

“We have a responsibility to support the health and well-being of our patients and associates,” says Diana Brande, a registered dietitian at MedStar Health. “We also have a responsibility to support the health of our local farmers and producers.”

In addition to Hess Farms, MedStar Health sourced ingredients from Shlagel Farms in Waldorf (zucchini, yellow squash, pepper, and tomatoes) and Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville (corn and blueberries).

Initiatives like Buy Local Week are essential to the success of local producers like Hess Farms, which depends on local retailers and organizations for about 90% of their business.

Graphic showing travel distance for food produced on farms.

“People don’t realize how important it is to support farms in their own area,” Hess says. “It helps us, and it helps the customer too, because they’re getting produce that is a lot fresher than food that traveled across the country.”

Brande said that each year, MedStar Health incorporates various components into Buy Local Week to engage and attract hospital associates and café visitors. One year, a hospital chef performed a cooking demonstration. At the same time, a dietitian answered questions about the importance of eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables and buying those foods from local farms.

“In addition to increasing awareness, there is a huge educational component to the week,” she says. “Our associates enjoyed trying the different foods and learning about healthier options.”

Brande adds that all meals offered at MedStar Health hospitals are cooked fresh on site, which gives chefs and other food preparers the flexibility to create diverse menus.

In addition to Buy Local Week, MedStar Health hospitals also offer Wellness Wednesday options on inpatient menus to allow patients (whose dietary needs permit) an opportunity to try dishes that are tasty and good for them. Some Wellness Wednesday specials are made with other locally sourced ingredients like charred sweet corn and baby kale salad, blueberry/peach/honey parfait, and a corn and quinoa bowl with chicken.

“It feels good knowing that my produce is used to provide healthy dishes for patients,” local farmer Hess says. “It makes what I do even more rewarding.”

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To learn more about MedStar Health’s programs and initiatives across Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region that are contributing to healthier communities, visit Health or email