Local Food Movement in Health Care

Ontario is home to some of the most robust and fertile agricultural land in Canada. This quality land supports over 50,000 farms across the province that account for almost one-quarter of all Canadian farm revenue, generating 36.4 billion dollars a year in Gross Domestic Product (Government of Ontario, 2017) (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 2017). Although eating locally has been ingrained (pun intended) into the history of Ontario, we have seen an increased push and promotion of local foods at both the consumer and policy level. The notion of local food procurement is often referred to as the “Farm to Table” or “Farm to Fork” movement and has significant positive impacts on the community, environment and individual level (tastier, fresher food!).

At a policy level, in 2013 the Ontario Government took steps towards promoting the ever-growing local food movement by passing Bill 36, Local Food Act. The goals of this act were to:

  1. To foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario.
  2. To increase awareness of local food in Ontario, including the diversity of local food.
  3. To encourage the development of new markets for local food.

(Minister of Agriculture and Food , 2013)

Highlighted in the required yearly report, the Ontario Government committed: $1.8 million in funding to 47 different projects by producer, processors, organizations and collaborations to support local food; $3.8 million to 77 projects through the Greenbelt Fund Local Food Investment; and over $660,000 to five local food projects through the Rural Economic Development Program (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 2017).

The farm to fork movement is occurring at all levels of food service, including the health sector. Projects that focus on putting local foods onto patient trays are paving the way for increasing local food procurement in health care. These initiatives hold promising positive outcomes from farmer through to patient. One of the biggest movers and shakers in this movement is Halton Healthcare. Their Good for You, Locally Grown project, funded through the Ontario Greenbelt Fund has received significant recognition in Ontario and the USA. Phase one of this project set the goal of increasing the amount of local food provided on their menus to 5-10%, developing staff skills, reviewing procurement policies and translating this knowledge to other facilities. This project was hugely successful, and they were able to exceed their goal to over 25% local food procurement. Given the success, Good for you, Locally Grown plowed forward with funds from the Local Food Investment Fund to Phase 2, which is completely focused on patient’s awareness, education and perspective of the local foods they are provided with during their hospital stay. They are doing this through the development on locally centric dishes made in house, and informing the patient about the Ontario farms in which their food is coming from. This project has received extremely positive feedback from patient’s, has been awarded the Local Food Champion by the Greenbelt Fund and continues to pave the way for increasing local foods at the patient bedside.

Promoting the incorporation of local foods at all levels of foodservice, Burlodge Canada has led the way through their ReFresh initiative. This strategy focuses on how retherm equipment can be used to create local and delicious meals that are realistic, affordable and adaptable for the healthcare setting with hopes of improving patient satisfaction and staff engagement. The initiative is more than just recipes, it considers all aspects of food products including cost, labour, food procurement, and equipment and provides clients with the tools needed to successfully provide patients with delicious and local meals at a time when it matters most. To read more about the ReFresh program in action, check out the success story of St. Michael’s Sustainability Program.

For tips and resources see below how you can work to incorporate more delicious, local foods into your facility.

Tips for promoting local foods in your facility

  • Talk to your distributors
    • Most food distributors already have a vast selection of local products. Work with your providers to see where more local ingredients can be incorporated.
    • Ask your food distributor if they have a local food specialist
  • Consider what you are currently purchasing that is local
    • How can you promote and market these local products to patients?
  • Assessing where costs can be offset
    • If a local food product is slightly more costly
  • If foods cannot be Ontario grown, where is the next closest product?
  • Think outside the produce
    • many people associate buying local with produce, but there are many Ontario poultry, eggs and dairy products available
  • Know what’s in season!
    • We all know apples in the fall, berries in the summer… but what about winter? Did you know you can get Ontario apples and carrots 11 out of 12 months? Frozen fruits and vegetables can be purchased during those chilly winter months. Look for greenhouse grown produce that can be grown all year.


Benefits to purchasing local foods includes benefits to:

  • Communities
    • Supports and sustains local jobs and promotes economic growth
    • Creates a strong sense of community by support
    • Consumers are able to engage with growers and producers directly
  • Environment
    • Closer to home = less transportation from farm to fork. Think of the amount resources that would be required to ship an apple to a downtown Toronto grocery store from New Zealand, compared to a Niagara farm. Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture reports that the average fresh food item on our dinner table travels 1,500 miles to get there. Buying locally produced food eliminates the need for all that fuel-guzzling transport(ThoughtCo, 2016).
  • Quality and nutrition value of meals
    • Local foods can taste better because they are in-season, and do not have to travel as far to get to our plates.
    • In healthcare, we know that when patients are eating, and enjoying their food they are less likely to become malnourished, which can result in reduced length of hospital stays and healthier patients.