August 8, 2012

Kaiser Permanente farmers markets grow to more than 50

Markets and farm stands thrive across the country.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kaiser Permanente, a champion of making fresh produce available to its members, employees and communities, announced this week that it now hosts more than 50 farmers markets and farm stands at its hospitals and facilities across the country.

“We are thrilled that our markets are thriving and expanding at our hospitals and in our communities,” says Preston Maring, MD, a Kaiser Permanente physician who started one of the first hospital-based farmers markets in 2003 at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. “It’s great for the health of the people who shop there, and great for local family farmers.”

As part of its mission and commitment to total health, Kaiser Permanente recently launched a new weekly, all organic farmers market outside its headquarters in Oakland, Calif. New markets and farm stands have also opened this summer in Corona, California, as well as Cleveland Heights and Willoughby, Ohio. In addition to California and Ohio, Kaiser Permanente hosts markets in Hawaii, Oregon and Maryland.

“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.”

A recent 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.

In addition to hosting farmers markets, 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.

Since 2003, Dr. Maring has helped to grow additional local produce markets at Kaiser Permanente facilities and the movement has spread to other hospitals and health systems across the country. According to a recent report from Health Care Without Harm, an international agency promoting sustainable practices in health care institutions, about 80 percent of 89 hospitals surveyed nationwide now host a farmers market or community supported agriculture program on site.

In addition to its on-site farmers markets and healthy food purchasing initiatives, Kaiser Permanente works to address food disparities as part of its Community Health Initiatives for healthy eating and active living, including sponsoring many community farmers markets throughout the country. And this spring, Kaiser Permanente joined forces with HBO, the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to launch "The Weight of the Nation," a comprehensive public health campaign designed to accelerate efforts to prevent and eliminate obesity across the United States.