These days there is a growing movement to buy local food. Aside from environmental benefits and support for the local economy, there is something so rewarding about biting into a juicy peach at the peak of the season, purchased from a farmer who lives down the road.
But for an organization the size of Interior Health, which provides about five million meals each year across 55 sites, buying local isn’t such a simple matter. Food safety is key, logistics are a challenge, and the financial implications must be weighed.
Still, leaders within Interior Health believe it is important to buy fresh local food and support the local agricultural industry.
“We have been working steadily with suppliers to take advantage of all the great food that is grown, produced and processed right here in B.C.,” says Interior Health Regional Director of Support Services Alan Davies. “We use as much locally grown produce as possible in our care homes and hospitals, plus cheeses, herbs, sausages, and more. We also highlight locally grown foods on our cafeteria menus, such as Armstrong carrots. We try to purchase as many fresh fruits and vegetables in season as possible. Overall, there has been a shift within Interior Health’s Food Services to provide fresher meals, with less sodium and using sustainable, green practices in our kitchens.”
“We’re always looking at new areas in which we can purchase locally. I would estimate that about 25 per cent of the produce we buy is locally grown, depending on seasonal availability. If you include bread and dairy, I would say about 30 per cent of all our food is purchased from within B.C.,” says Davies.
Interior Health works closely with food distribution company Sysco Kelowna to ensure food is not only of good quality and locally sourced when possible, but also that strict food safety measures are in place.
“If a recall occurs, we can have every customer notified within a two to three hour period,” says Sysco Kelowna Account Executive Ryan Thiessen.
Sysco only buys products from farmers who are certified GAP (Good Agricultural Practice). These GAP codes, standards and regulations have been developed by the international food industry, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide consistent food safety and quality standards as well as meet requirements for certain trade needs and niche markets.
“Over the years, more co-ops have been established and more farmers are signing on to GAP, so we can take advantage of those items being available,” says Thiessen. “We can pretty much guarantee a B.C. apple about eight months out of the year.”
Growers such as Kelowna-based Angelo De Simone and his son Pierre are an important part of that supply.
“It’s very good to see more people interested in buying local food, including large organizations like Interior Health. It means fewer greenhouse gas emissions and support for family-run farms like ours,” De Simone says.
“We are doing what we can and we encourage others in the community to look at their own purchases. B.C. has so much to offer in terms of buying locally produced food,” says Davies.