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Food Distributor Helps Iowa’s Health Care Facilities Serve Patients Local Food

Food Distributor Helps Iowa’s Health Care Facilities Serve Patients Local Food

May 17, 2016 |

Photo courtesy Iowa Choice Harvest

Photo courtesy Iowa Choice Harvest

Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is dedicated to serving its patients, staff, and visitors the best food Iowa has to offer. And thanks to a few handfuls of local, Iowa farms, the hospital has been able to maintain that standard.

One of the companies that helps Mercy Medical obtain fresh produce and goods is Iowa Choice Harvest. The Marshalltown, Iowa company has partnered with the hospital since 2015. It is dedicated to helping farms across Iowa find customers and co-processes and co-packs for existing and start-up businesses in the Midwest.

“We began planning in 2006 and began production in 2013,” says Sung Hee Grittmann, sales coordinator for Iowa Choice Harvest. “Iowa Choice Harvest is the brainchild of an innovative group of farmers who are passionate about establishing a viable local food system while simultaneously supporting Iowa farmers and creating new economies.

But getting the company off the ground was no easy feat, according to Grittmann. 
 “It took nine years of hard work and perseverance,” she says.

ICH works with farmers to connect them to small-to-medium-sized food companies that need produce, and offers processing services like freezing and packing to get goods to market.  

“Our members represent farmers who farm 10 to 1,200 acres. They are diverse farmers who have an interest in the local food system,” Grittmann says. “We also purchase crops from farmers who are not members but raise Iowa fruits and vegetables.”

One example is Buffalo Ridge OrchardThe orchard was founded in 2003 by Vernon and Mary Zahradnik. In 2012, Marcus Johnson, the Zahradnik’s son-in-law, and Emma, his wife, relocated to Central City, Iowa to work on the orchard full time.

“BRO was started with the planting of its first apple tree in 2003,” Johnson says. “The original planting began the transition of a traditional 80-acre livestock and row-crop farm to one that supplies healthy local fruits and vegetables.” The business is growing and is currently self-sustaining. It supports the four family members and is their full-time, single-source of employment. They also employee part-time seasonal labor.

Making the connection between a small orchard and big health care institutions is a big opportunity for ICH.

“We’re open to any opportunities that will grow the market for Iowa farmers and positively affect our local food system,” Grittmann says. “Supporting local farms has been an integral part of our culture since inception. We wholeheartedly believe that farmers are the backbone of our economy and by creating opportunities for Iowa farmers to diversify crops and keep our dollars at home will eventually change the face of our local food system and positively affect everyone.”

It’s that mentality that led the company to provide food to places like Mercy Medical.

“We believe that hospitals and care facilities are working diligently at caring for sick people,” Grittmann says. “What better way than to provide food that is healthy for people to eat. We value the idea of helping to build healthy bodies. We identified hospitals, care facilities, and other healthcare entities as natural partners—as they are doing their best to care for patients, we can nourish them with the best possible produce in terms of nutrition and taste.”

ICH helps these institutions by providing a direct line to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

“There’s no need to worry about additives that would compromise special diets, and in many instances using our products allows chefs to decrease the amount of sugar they would normally use in their recipes. We also make it extremely easy to work with us—from order to delivery; we take out the red tape commonly associated with working with smaller food vendors,” Grittmann says.

While the organization is still in its start-up phase, it’s still adding new customers every month.

“We need to continue to build our brand so Iowans know they can purchase our products in grocery stores, but also ask for it when they go out to eat, when they utilize hospital services, or when dining at other places that serve food.”

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