What’s an effective way for a hospital to honor the mission statement to “create healthy” and also connect with the surrounding community? For Hill Country Memorial Hospital (HCM) in Fredericksburg, the answer was simple: Become a partner with the Fredericksburg Farmer’s Market (FFM) and sell a different homemade soup each week at the market prepared with the market’s seasonal offerings—everything from a spicy caldo de res made with local grass-fed beef shank and vegetables to a chilled tomato peach soup with basil.
“The hospital is trying to not be isolated, or be seen as just the building you go to to get repaired,” says HCM’s Director of Nutrition Services John “JP” Phelps, who was part of a HCM/FFM team seeking ways to demonstrate uses for the market’s produce and other products. “We’re trying to set a good example.”
Phelps says the idea for soup was a logical choice because it was something the hospital was already offering to some of their patients and was easily transportable. Plus, it was not difficult to adapt recipes to incorporate the seasonal produce from the market.
Therefore, since last year, the hospital’s chef, Steve Sommers, has been purchasing ingredients from farmers each week at the market, and then preparing a soup at the hospital to be sold at the market the following weekend, along with a printed recipe.
FFM’s Assistant Director Cynthia England says that from the very beginning it was a hit. “It was wildly popular,” she says. “[The soups] were packaged as a takeaway product, but a lot of people just enjoyed it so much that they sat there at a picnic table and drank the soup right away.”
What’s more, England says the collaboration with the hospital has provided other benefits, including increased exposure for the farmers whose ingredients are featured, and for the market itself, thanks to posters and other promotions created by HCM’s marketing department.
“Money can’t buy that kind of awareness in the community,” England says. “Certainly, we spend some money on ads in places we think are appropriate, but to have the hospital system be on our team and go to bat for us is invaluable to us at the market, to our vendors and to the entire community.”
Phelps says for its part, the hospital plans to keep making the soups for a second year, and has even developed other partnerships with some of the market vendors as a result of the initiative.
“This program is so cherished because we are actually doing something outside the walls and getting in contact with people and making them aware that there are a lot of things that are going on at the hospital,” he says. “But also, we are trying to ‘create healthy’.” —Nicole Lessin