Food & DrinkThe Locavore

St. Mary’s Produce Stand Helps Health Care Workers Stay Healthy

It’s no secret that doctors and nurses work long hours. And the longer the hours at work, the fewer the hours available to be allocated to life stuff: taking your car for an oil change, picking up dry cleaning, running to the grocery store. Hospitals may not have found solutions for the first two, yet, but some of them are actively working on the third.

Wednesday, July 22 was the inaugural market day at the brand-new produce stand at St. Mary’s Hospital. The stand, a partnership between St. Mary’s and the Athens Land Trust, brings produce, as well as farm-smart people, into the hospital for an interactive experience not unlike that of a farmers market.

St. Mary’s first approached the Athens Land Trust about the possibility of partnering together to lend institutional support to local agriculture.

“There’s a whole initiative in Michigan that is a collaboration of government, institutions, just lot of different agencies, really trying to make a food systems change,” says Lauren Johnson, community benefits manager at St. Mary’s. “So I called up that hospital in Ann Arbor and said, ‘What are you guys doing? What’s working and what’s not working?’ and kind of got some feedback from that, so starting a produce stand really just seemed like a great place to start.”

The farm stand serves not only to support the small farmers around Athens, but also to promote good nutrition as well. “I think it sets a good example in terms of health care professionals eating healthy and eating well,” says Lydia Engelsen of Sungate Farm.

For the farmers selling on Wednesday, the day was certainly a success. More than 200 hospital employees, visitors and others bought produce at the stand.

“It actually went amazingly well. We’re all really excited about it. It’s a great opportunity for us to have another option of distribution for our veggies, and it’s great for the hospital also, because they can promote the healthy living to their staff and employees and visitors,” says Mason Miller, farm manager at Spring Valley EcoFarms.

In total, all of the five–10 farms participating, including Spring Valley, sold nearly 250 pounds of produce ranging from squash to tomatoes to okra to cucumbers to veggie-of-the-week green beans. Each week, the stand will pick one vegetable to feature as the special for the week. That particular vegetable will be discounted, too, to encourage people to buy. With the abundance of green beans this time of year, it was a natural first choice, and farmers sold nearly 80 pounds of them alone.

In addition to a weekly special, the produce stand is implementing a frequent-shopper program, where customers will receive a punch card for shopping at the market and at the land trust’s West Broad Farmers Market. The first 50 people to get their card punched 10 times will earn a free bag of produce from the produce stand’s farmers.

Rather than simply walking up to a table and making a purchase, as one would do in a typical grocery store, customers at the produce stand can speak with and learn from the knowledgeable staff from the Athens Land Trust, who represent the farmers at the stand. The produce stand offers opportunities for curious customers to ask questions and taste-test and sample new-to-them produce.

The participating farmers find value in community markets such as this one. It shows them that the community they love supports them as well.

“It’s vital. It’s what keeps farms like us alive,” Engelsen says.

Though the most prevalent veggies during Georgia’s hot, hot summer include okra, tomatoes and eggplant, the farmers are already thinking about what the stand will look like in the fall. “At least two of them have told me they’re already planning to expand their production because of the success of [Wednesday’s] market, and they’re really excited to see this come together,” says Shannon McBride, farms business manager at Athens Land Trust.

The St. Mary’s/Athens Land Trust produce stand will be open each Wednesday from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. now through Oct. 28 and accepts cash, debit cards and EBT cards.