Eating Locally In Eau Claire
On occasion, I write about good news. That’s what took me to Eau Claire earlier this year to chronicle the rise of the local-food movement in western Wisconsin for The Progressive magazine.
I was impressed. Sacred Heart Hospital has pioneered the use of locally grown food in its dining operation and is recognized as a national leader.
Here’s how the story begins:
HOSPITAL FOOD: THE VERY term conjures up the most bland and unappetizing images. But that’s changing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, population 65,000. Sacred Heart, the smaller of Eau Claire’s two hospitals, has committed to spending 10 percent of its food budget on tasty local produce and meat.
By big-city standards, this does not amount to much—about $200,000 a year. But cracking the institutional market is one of the trickier challenges facing food system reformers, and this 334-bed hospital in western Wisconsin is showing the way.
By its nature, institutional food service is cost conscious and lends itself to the efficient, standardized approach of mass production. If you have hundreds, if not thousands, to feed daily, purveyors like Sysco, Aramark, and Sodexo are experts at delivering food product in the perfect portion size.
“We were used to placing an order and having everything come in the door exactly how we wanted it,” says Rick Beckler, Sacred Heart’s director of hospitality services. “We didn’t have a clue where it was produced or who grew it. We didn’t know even what continent it came from.”
Sacred Heart’s kitchen now serves greens from Pam Herdrich’s Flower Farm south of Eau Claire, meatloaf made of hamburger from Vic and Mary Price’s Out to Pasture Beef in Fall Creek, chicken from Eileen McCutchen’s Angel Acres in Mason, pork from Jim and Alison Deutsch’s Family Farm near Osseo, and lots of other locally sourced items.
To read more, including the Deutsch family’s inspiring story, go here. Note that Sacred Heart recently increased its purchase of local food to 15% of its total food budget.