CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. – Cars packed the Hudson Valley Hospital Center parking lot Tuesday morning for the hospital's first farmers market. The market is part of the hospital's "Seeds for Health" program, which aims to promote healthy eating.
The hospital is hoping staff and community members "realize that they can take control of their own health and disease prevention," said hospital clinical nutrition manager, Melissa Rickmeyer.
Shoppers steadily flowed into the hospital's front parking lot at 11 a.m. when the market opened. About 1,300 people work at Hudson Valley, providing vendors a captive audience. Dozens shopped in scrubs and doctors could be spotted milling around booths of summer squash, peppers and variegated heritage tomatoes.
Markets take place the last Tuesday of every month through October, and Nov. 20. Most of the 11 vendors sell organic products and market their produce as "natural," although not all participate in the federally administered certification program.
Vendors were vetted by hospital volunteers and don't pay to participate in the market. Most drive from less than 45 minutes away. Some, like Hemlock Hill Farm on Croton Avenue, drive just over two miles, or six minutes.
Other efforts by the hospital to promote healthy eating include a volunteer-maintained organic garden, opened in the spring. The hospital is working toward beginning cooking classes using the garden's produce.
Hospital president, John Federspiel, said the hospital is working toward broad changes, like swapping out unhealthy snacks in vending machines and cooking local produce in the cafeteria.
Contrary to the perception that organic produce is necessarily expensive, Federspiel said he believes the market's prices are "very competitive." Prices ranged from Glynwood Farm's $1 per pepper or eggplant, to Rogowski Farms $3 per pound Russett potatoes, to more expensive prepared foods, like $12.50 crab cakes at Panzarella's.
The hospital marketing department is trying to reverse organic produce's unattainably pricey reputation. "The other day we posted an article about how to shop at the farmers market on a budget," said Luz Corona, marketing assistant.
Rickmeyer is a member of the hospital's nutrition department, and with the master gardeners of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, was present at the market to answer questions.
"I think it kind of opened up people's minds a little bit," said Rickmeyer, about a long-running hospital-based market she participated in. "Eggplant can be a little scary to people," she said.
Rickmeyer said people should eat between five and nine vegetables per day, and although organic vegetables are ideal, people should focus on variety and quantity. "I focus on getting the amount of vegetables instead of them being organic," she said. Rickmeyer said she doesn't want to dissuade people from eating vegetables if they're not organic.