Whole foods

Union Hospital dishes up or­ganic, lo­cal eats

Cecil Whig - - JUMPSTART -

— A hospital cafe­te­ria may be an un­likely place to get a good meal— but Union Hospital does not dis­ap­point.

There is much to like about what’s hap­pen­ing in the culi­nary arts at the county’s health care fa­cil­ity. And ac­cord­ing to Holly Em­mons, the hospital’s food ser­vice man­ager, it be­gan with a con­ver­sa­tion with a dis­grun­tled pa­tient.

“The CEO of the hospital sent word to have me come and speak to a pa­tient about his con­cerns,” Em­mons said. “He was a farmer on a car­diac diet. He said the green­house toma­toes were hor­ri­ble and that he wanted fresh sausage.”

Em­mons left that meet­ing and rushed to the farm­ers mar­ket, where she pro­cured fresh toma­toes and pre­pared the man a healthy meal. Some­time af­ter his dis­charge, sat­is­fied with the care he had re­ceived, he re­turned to the hospital with can­taloupes he had grown at his farm.

“I thought, ‘ Why can’t we buy food like this?’ Yes, it’s more work, but we have a ded­i­cated pro­duc­tion staff,” she said.

Since that time, Em­mons, who has been in food ser­vice her “whole life,” has set a strate­gic goal of re­duc­ing the amount of pro­cessed food be­ing served in the hospital. Ad­her­ing to an


or­ganic and sus­tain­able food phi­los­o­phy, she and the staff prac­tice en­vi­ron­men­tal nu­tri­tion, which she de­scribes as re­turn­ing to the way it was be­fore in­dus­trial agri­cul­ture.

“It is sad,” Em­mons said. “Our food sys­tem is so out of whack. As a health care in­sti­tu­tion, we should be a fore­run­ner of healthy, in­sti­tu­tional foods.”

In keep­ing with a whole- foods ide­ol­ogy, she pur­chases lo­cal, or­ganic veg­eta­bles from Pri­api Gar­dens in Ce­cil­ton and Fi­lasky’s Pro­duce in Mid­dle­ton, Del. Pas­ture- grazed beef and pork are ob­tained from Shane Hughes at Lib­erty De­light Farms in Reis­ter­stown; Kelly McGill from KCC Nat­u­ral Farms in For­est Hill pro­vides the freerange chicken.

Hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the farm­ers al­lows for con­ver­sa­tion re­gard­ing sea­sonal fare, and re­quests for spe­cific cuts of meat for dishes like fa­ji­tas and sweet and sour chicken. It also pro­vides va­ri­ety and op­por­tu­ni­ties to try less com­mon veg­eta­bles such as kohlrabi and bok choy.

“We are very happy to be pro­vid­ing food to the lo­cal hospital for staff, pa­tients and the pub­lic,” said Vic Pri­api, an or­ganic farmer who har­vests and de­liv­ers to Union Hospital on the same day.

Noe­lyn I. De Roxas — the hospital’s culi­nary su­per­vi­sor per­haps bet­ter known as Chef Ning — ex­plained that they ex­tend the har­vest by pro­cess­ing their own foods. Dur­ing tomato sea­son, they pre­pare home­made mari­nara sauce. When corn is at its peak, it is husked, cut and frozen for later use. Em­mons added that last sea­son they were pur­chas­ing 400 to 500 ears of corn a week. The corn chow­der pre­pared in March was made with last fall’s ker­nels.

“We are af­ter qual­ity here,” Chef Ning said. “Our fla­vor is in­cred­i­ble. We have a cook- from­scratch kitchen. We use real pota­toes in our mashed pota­toes. The meat­balls are from scratch.”

What is served to the pa­tients is also avail­able to both the hospital staff and the com­mu­nity in the staff cafe­te­ria and The Union Ex­press cof­fee shop.

“Our food — across the board — is served to ev­ery­one,” said Brenda M. O’Con­nor, di­eti­cian su­per­vi­sor with the hospital. “Peo­ple are eat­ing healthy with­out even know­ing it.”

On the morn­ing of my visit, one of the of­fer­ings was an omelet made with cage- free eggs, ham, broc­coli, onions, mush­rooms, and feta cheese, gar­nished with as­para­gus and red bell pep­per. Ce­cil Col­lege stu­dents eat in the cafe­te­ria be­cause they like the pizza and burgers. Em­ploy­ees of lo­cal banks and the post of­fice fre­quent the lo­cale as well.

For Em­mons, nu­tri­tion goes be­yond the pa­tients to the staff and visi­tors. When plac­ing or­ders for meat and veg­eta­bles, she or­ders ex­tra to sell to cus­tomers. Her phi­los­o­phy is not sim­ply to serve good food, but to cul­ti­vate a healthy life­style by en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to buy eth­i­cally-sourced and en­vi­ron­men­tal­lynu­tri­ent food for home use.

“We are the an­chor of our com­mu­nity,” Em­mons said, rec­og­niz­ing how far the pro­gram has come since the visit with the un­happy pa­tient. “That farmer opened up my eyes.”

In­spired Bites is a monthly col­umn on the peo­ple and sto­ries be­hind lo­cal food from Denise Marotta Lopes. Con­tact her with ques­tions and sug­ges­tions at ac­cent@ce­cil­whig.com or find her on­line at denise­marot­talopes.com.


Union Hospital’s Brenda M. O’Con­nor, di­eti­cian su­per­vi­sor, Holly Em­mons, food ser­vice man­ager, and Noe­lyn De Roxas, culi­nary su­per­vi­sor, show off the hospital’s din­ing op­tions.


Per­sonal piz­zas are a fa­vorite op­tion for some com­mu­nity mem­bers who dine in at Union Hospital.

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