Face of a Food Champion: Pam Oldham
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids is a leader in the region and among healthcare providers statewide in providing local food to patients, their families and employees.
|Pam Oldham and Andy Deutmeyer visit Buffalo Ridge Orchard in Central City, Iowa. Photo contributed by Marcus Johnson.|
Mercy began sourcing local foods several years ago. Pam Oldham, Co-Director of Food and Nutrition Services at the hospital, shares several reasons for incorporating local foods into their patient and cafeteria meals: “The food tastes great, it supports local farm businesses and it provides patients with healthy food, which is an essential contributor to their health.”
Finding anchor farmers who could meet the hospital’s needs has been key to starting a successful local food program at Mercy Medical Center. Oldham notes that at first it was a challenge to find farmers who could supply the quantity and quality they needed.
“We go through about 250 pounds of slicing tomatoes a week; some farmers could only supply ten pounds a week,” she says. “We found a couple farmers who could supply what we needed, and once we realized farmers were there who could supply us at a cost that matched our budget, we decided we could [buy local] all the time.”
Seven core farmers supply most of the hospital’s local foods, and some have diversified their operations as a result. “The farmer growing peppers for us began growing onions for us, too, and now strawberries.” Oldham and Purchasing and Production Manager Andy Deutmeyer have visited most of their suppliers’ farms. “We’ve gotten to know the farmers and their families. It’s nice to know we’re helping them and they’re helping us.”
Mercy’s Food and Nutrition Services sources as many fruits and vegetables as possible from local farmers, as well as yogurt, beef and pork. From 2011 through 2013, on average they purchased 20,000 pounds of local produce a year and spent an annual average of $45,000 on local foods. They hope to double their purchases of local foods by the end of the 2014 calendar year.
Patients and cafeteria customers love the fresh ingredients used at the hospital. “Our tomato usage goes up about 80 pounds a week when we have local tomatoes; they just taste better,” says Oldham.
Mercy is also a part of an organization of healthcare providers worldwide called Planetree, which is dedicated to a patient-centered care model. One of the key components of their model is food and the healing aspects of food. “They look at the connection between food and health as important,” Oldham says. “It’s an integral part of healthcare and of the health of everyone.”
Oldham and Deutmeyer have had many opportunities to share what they’ve learned about purchasing local foods with others. “We’re seen as leaders in local food, and people ask us how to get started or how to do it.” Oldham is on the board of Horizons, which provides Meals on Wheels, and recently joined the Linn County Food Systems Council. Deutmeyer is on the NewBo City Market board.
About this story
This story was produced to accompany a report documenting the impact of the local food industry on Iowa’s economy associated with the efforts of the Regional Food Systems Working Group. Consult the statewide report: 2013 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.
For more information on the local foods work occurring in the east-central region, visit FieldtoFamily.org.