Members of PeaceHealth’s stellar Food & Nutrition Services team!

Farm Fresh Workplace Success

By Diana Meeks

If you go all the way back to the origins of PeaceHealth in the late 19th century, you’ll find an amazing story and an amazing woman. Mother Francis Claire (shown below), who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in 1884, and was what we today would call an incredible changemaker. She was a strong leader who became internationally known (and occasionally castigated) for her work and advocacy on behalf of women and the poor.  She was a talented and profuse writer, raised incredible sums of money for famine relief in Ireland, switched religions to have more impact, founded her own convent, traveled to America, and started an industrial school for women…among other things. And, as it turns out, the reverberation of her work is still being felt today, right here in Bellingham.

In 1890 two novice sisters from St. Joseph of Peace left their convent in New Jersey and traveled to Fairhaven (imagine what that journey must have been like!) to start a hospital that would serve the budding community of loggers, fisherman, millworkers and their families. A picture of what Fairhaven would have looked like at the time is shown below. Over the next century, the number and locations of their hospitals grew and reached as far south as Oregon. In the 1970s the sisters decided to form a separate organization that would oversee the hospitals, and in 1994 the name was changed to PeaceHealth to better reflect their original mission. To this day they continue the important work that the sisters started so long ago, and have a commitment to care for the whole community, not just treat individuals. Liz Dunne, the current President and CEO explains “great clinical care is just one key component that influences overall health. Fostering healthy communities means reaching people before they are sick and supporting their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.”

In PeaceHealth’s Community Commitment they’ve outlined four areas of focus including family nutrition, affordable housing, health workers, and substance use as places the organization endeavors to heal in order to create healthy communities. They believe in hyperlocal solutions and that change starts from within, that it only makes sense for staff to champion these efforts internally. So what does local food have to do with all this?

A number of years ago they adopted Sustainable Connections’ Farm Fresh Workplaces program which connects employers to local farms and gets fresh food boxes delivered straight from the farm to the office. These boxes of food or “farm shares” are also called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and are one of the best ways to get more fruit and veggies into your diet and support local farmers. It ended up being a great tool PeaceHealth could use to support their staff and their efforts to eat more nutritious food.

Local Food Box
Cooking Local Food

Last year PeaceHealth had 60 employees that signed up to participate, including Hilary Andrade, PeaceHealth’s Senior Communication Specialist, who coordinates the program. After sending out a survey to employees to see what was important to them (was organic food a priority, did they want the option to order eggs, etc.) they settled on Cedarville Farm located just outside Bellingham. Cedarville is owned and operated by Mike and Kim Finger who have been farming in Whatcom County for over 30 years. They grow a large variety of organic veggies, fruits, and also offer eggs. They were the first farm in Whatcom to offer a CSA and make it easy for anyone to participate. They also include recipes for veggies that are a little out of the ordinary, so along with the fresh organic tomatoes, kale, lettuce, beets, carrots, and basil, staff will know exactly what they can do with their kohlrabi!

Hilary says the partnership with Cedarville has been perfect. Getting boxes of local food delivered introduces a variety of produce, and new veggies many haven’t tried before. Cedarville has also worked with PeacHealth to offer a new option to increase flexibility and choice this year. It makes eating local and fresh easy, and for PeaceHealth it exemplifies their belief that “food is medicine, and that the local option should always be the first choice whenever possible in order to honor the community and do what we can to build it up.”

Cedarville Farm
Mike Cedarville Farm

When it comes to food PeaceHealth has also been revamping their dining services. They recently overhauled their menu and started cooking as much food from scratch as possible for the hospital cafeteria and patient meals. Their kitchen makes their own healing bone broths, breads, and dressings and the cafeteria has a fresh salad bar so customers can choose from a wide variety of healthy options. They are striving to integrate more local foods and in the coming years might even host a small weekly farmers market on campus.

PeaceHealth Salad
Pho Fridays PeaceHealth

“We are always working to nourish our patients and ourselves in a way that supports our community,” says Hilary. Here at Sustainable Connections, we commend them for the work that they’ve done and the ways in which they are supporting their staff and the local food system! The public is always welcome at the cafeteria, especially for Pho Fridays. If you’d like to learn more about how to set up your own Farm Fresh Workplace program, you can get a toolkit and all the support you’d like here –it’s a real win for staff, workplace wellness, and our community!