Buying fruit and a cure


More and more US hospitals are inviting farmers' markets onto their grounds

AN X-RAY and a bag of oranges, anyone? It makes perfect sense to Dr Preston Maring. In the lobby of Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, Dr Maring says, he’d regularly pass vendors selling crafts. One day, he had an aha moment: “This has nothing to do with our mission as a healthcare facility,” he thought.

And today, six years later, Kaiser Permanente has 30 farmers’ markets at medical facilities in four states where patients, staff and community members shop.

Locally grown fruit and vegetables also are used in 23 Kaiser hospital kitchens.

Innovative programmes like the one sponsored by Kaiser Permanente are extending the reach of the farmers’ market ideal, bringing high-quality fresh produce grown by small farmers to a wider audience.

Doctors are so focused on disease that they may not always see the value of a bunch of fresh kale or an ear of just-picked corn, Maring says, but Kaiser Permanente’s emphasis on preventive medicine seemed a good fit for farm-fresh food.

Maring is convinced that the markets are making a difference at Kaiser, the largest nonprofit health plan in the United States.

“People come up to me and tell me what they cooked,” Maring says. “The hospital engineer lost 50 pounds since the market started.” Kaiser Permanente in Baldwin Park, California, joined California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, for a twice-monthly Friday farmers’ market.

On one recent market day, Dr Robert Riewerts, chief of pediatrics, made black bean and corn salsa.

“It’s a big, huge challenge to get people to live a healthy life,” he says. “Patients have to walk through here to get to the doctor. It puts in their mind that we take healthy eating seriously.”

“You have to move one step at a time to help people shift to food that is healthier and cheaper,” he says. “I am seeing some movement.”

Take the day that a group of 33 high school students came to the market at his hospital to “stand around listening to an “ageing, white male gynaecologist” and watch him make a grilled chicken salad.

It was a “fabulous day” that gave him hope, Maring says. “There’s room to make a difference.”

Source: Los Angeles Times/Washington Post via Irish Times Health (click to read article in full)