‘Farm to patient’
Local hospital has switched to healthier, locally grown food
SARANAC LAKE — Carl Bowen is a man with a mission. As director of nutritional services at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake, he’s determined to give every patient and staff member the ability to eat healthily. And it’s not going to cost them a fortune.
On a bright sunny day before Thanksgiving, Bowen is handing out 850 Thanksgiving turkeys and 175 pies to Adirondack Health employees, a company tradition. Vegetarians can choose a large bag of apples.
Since he joined the hospital staff in 2013, Bowen has turned the traditional hospital menu on its head. Instead of the overcooked, processed food high in starch, sugar and salt that many people expect to be served in an institution, Adirondack Medical Center offers as much fresh, local food as possible. In addition to the salad bar in the cafeteria, the daily menu — it’s Chinese on this day — is prepared with food grown close to home.
“We urge fresh vegetables and less processed food,” said Bowen. “We’ve decreased processed food by at least 60 percent.”
The changes in the menu, at first, were viewed with trepidation by hospital administration. Matt Scollin, hospital spokesman, said, “The stereotype of serving more fresh food is that it’s going to be more expensive. There was some hesitance when Carl first brought his ideas to the cafeteria, but then when the revenues increased that brought everyone on board.”
Not only did the patients appreciate the food, but staff who used to be in the habit of eating out started taking meals in the cafeteria.
“We’d hear, ‘This isn’t hospital food!'” said Scollin.
“It depends on how you market it,” said Scollin. Bowen modified the pricing so salads and vegetables are affordable. Desserts, such as parfait from North Country Creamery, with fresh fruit and granola, are tempting, inexpensive, and healthy.
Local food requires local preparation, with more work to be done in-house. Instead of opening cans and using mixes, staff start earlier in the food preparation process. Cutting boards and food processors take the place of can openers and mixers.
“We’ve totally modernized the hospital’s cooking equipment,” said Bowen. For instance, he’s hoping to buy beef for hamburgers from Kilcoyne Farm in Brasher Falls. Before they changed the kitchen equipment buying fresh local beef wasn’t an option.
“Now we’ve got the charbroiler, we can cook it properly. You can’t really cook hamburgers right [any other way].”
Preparing food in-house avoids the chemicals, additives, and sweeteners that enhance flavor and preserve processed food for shipment. In blueberry pancakes, instead of using freeze-dried blueberries, they use fresh or frozen ones.
“We don’t buy pre-made sheet cakes or anything like that. All the pies today were made in-house using apples from Florence Orchards in Peru.”
“It goes hand in hand with what our doctors prescribe,” said Bowen. “All our patients are counseled by our diet technicians, and we urge them to eat fresh vegetables and less processed foods.”
The hospital’s registered dietitian, Sharon Sorgule, said, “Fresh foods — locally sourced, and properly stored and prepared — offer higher nutrient levels than processed foods shipped over long distances. In addition, use of fresh foods limits the need for added preservatives in the food supply, which frequently contain hidden sodium and phosphorus and are problematic for our cardiac and renal patients in particular. Most importantly, fresh foods taste better. Nutritional support plays a vital role in the healing and recovery of our patients. Having good tasting, nourishing meals available can speed the healing process.”
In addition to supporting the health of the patients, the nutrition department looks to support local farmers and vendors. Maple syrup comes from the Red Fox Farm in Lake Placid, and profits support the Thomas Shipman Youth Center.
“We really like that partnership, not only because it benefits kids, but it’s a local vendor. We’re looking to grow local connections. As long as they have proper sanitation we can buy from them.” Bowen said.
Before coming to work for the hospital, Bowen worked at Mountain Lake Academy in Lake Placid for 10 years, where he got involved in the Farm to School Initiative. As he adapts and changes his menus, he’s adapting that Farm to School model, as well.
“I call it Farm to Patient,” he said.