UC Davis Health researchers were awarded a $450,000 grant to help expand the health system’s ability to work with growers who focus on specialty crops. These crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits.
Fred Meyers, director of the UC Davis Center for Precision Medicine and Data Science, and Ronit Ridberg, manager of the center’s Precision Nutrition Program, will lead the project to help build a “farm-to-hospital” model at UC Davis Health. Executive Chef Santana Diaz and his team at Food and Nutrition Services have been working toward this goal since 2017 when Diaz joined the health system.
“Our center believes in the value of team science,” Meyers said. “Not only is the project a natural fit for the way we conduct research, but we also believe strongly in the role diet and nutrition play in our health, especially through fresh fruits and vegetables. Why not make them extra fresh, and find them as close to the source as possible?”
Specialty crops make up the majority of California’s agricultural production, driving a large part of the state’s agricultural economy. However, off-season demand and a desire for cheaper or processed produce leads many stores and restaurants to source from out of state or Mexico. This draws money away from local economies and contributes to climate change by transporting food from more than 50 miles away.
This has been seen and felt in the Sacramento region. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of farms in the Sacramento region declined as growers struggled financially. The economic crisis spurred by COVID-19 further stressed regional food systems.
UC Davis Health has the second-largest production kitchen in Sacramento. It spends $1.63 million on produce annually to serve 2.4 million meals per year. Changing to more seasonal menus that use specialty crops from the region and California will show how the hospital can promote both the health of its patients and employees and the local economy.
“Clean, seasonal, and sustainable foods are the foundation of proactive health,” Diaz said. “It starts with trust and source transparency of what we actually put into our body. Our local communities can benefit from these practices given the available bounty of our location.”