Buying local - A new strategy to get Quebec food products on the school and hospital plates
MONTREAL -- Four years ago, Ste-Justine Hospital decided to revamp its food offerings to please its young patients, after too many children were sending back their meals untouched.
The food services department approached the mission with fervour to please their most important customers, but once completed, the department coordinator thought, “why stop there? “
Josee Lavoie and her team then decided to try and put as much local food as possible on hospital plates - for patients, visitors and staff.
“We started with eggs, honey and maple syrup,” Lavoie said.
After only one year, 45 per cent of Ste-Justine’s food supply came from Quebec producers.
“That was great,” Lavoie said, “but we thought, hmm, it’s going to be a big challenge to increase it.”
So the CHUM children’s hospital turned to Equiterre for help, since the Quebec ecology group has been championing local foods and the concept of food-autonomy for two decades.
Now, Equiterre will be supporting others in Quebec on a larger scale, after the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) introduced on Tuesday, a broad initiative to steer public institutions toward local food supply chains.
The Executive Director of Equiterre says it’s a big step and has been a long time coming.
“We’re very concerned at Equiterre about food autonomy and the COVID crisis, and the climate crisis that puts us in a precarious position with regards to our food supply. “
This new provincial strategy. Colleen Thorpe added, will not only help schools, hospitals, and seniors’ homes serve healthier, local and environmentally responsible food but will also “increase the capacity of producers to be resilient.”
The MAPAQ plan requires 85 per cent of public institutions in Quebec to set local supply targets by 2023, and 100 percent of them have to be on board by 2025.
During phase one of the government initiative, institutions will be offered support through a menu program created in part by Equiterre and other information tools to help guide them through the complicated process of food procurement.
The Institut de tourisme et d’hotellerie du Quebec will be tasked with connecting local farmers with local producers.
Changing the institutional food system won’t be easy, Colleen Thorpe says, when food is not always even identified as coming from Quebec, and when farmers and producers require fair pricing for their product - public budgets or not.
But she says, “everyone will come together and communicate best practices,” to help overcome some of those obstacles and create a durable system.
Simply getting the word out that large institutions can buy local, counts for a lot, Thorpe says.
“When you show others that it’s working, it’s good for their morale, and they keep doing it.”
Ste-Justine Hospital will forge ahead with its own buy-local project, and Josee Lavoie says she's pleased they’ll now have more government support.
“Before we were alone…now other organizations will join us. The more institutions buy from local suppliers, the better the prices will be,” and the greater the chances for success.
Ste Justine Hospital takes that educational component seriously and employs a full-time horticulturalist who manages a rooftop garden where she grows herbs to make pestos. In a second garden open to patients and visitors alike, they grow and harvest Saskatoon berries annually.
"The berries taste like blueberries with a hint of almond flavour," explained Isabelle St-Aubin.
The kitchen uses them to make jams and desserts for the employees to purchase and enjoy.
That’s as ‘local’ as hospital food can get, St-Aubin says.
Ste-Justine will forge ahead with its own buy-local project, and Josee Lavoie says she's pleased they’ll now have more government support.
“Before we were alone…now other organizations will join us. The more institutions buy from local suppliers, the better the prices will be,” she said.