Browse through Northville and Bantam Markets, and you’ll notice a preponderance of labels featuring two green forks intersecting a sunrise. The little green forks—the logo for New Milford Hospital’s healthy-food program, Plow to Plate—have been popping up all over Litchfield County recently. It is part of an effort to partner with local restaurants and grocers to promote healthy eating.
More than 30 local restaurants and markets have joined the program’s Signature Dish initiative since it started last year, according to Susan Twombly, the hospital’s community-outreach coordinator. Participating businesses agree to print the logo next to a dish on the menu or near products that adhere to the hospital’s nutritional principles, which includes using whole grains; limiting added fat, sodium, and sugar without compromising taste; and, when possible, using locally sourced ingredients.
The underlying intent is to steer customers toward healthier choices, says Kerry Gold, New Milford Hospital’s food service director. “It’s about getting awareness out there, that what you eat today can affect your health tomorrow. So, by having the restaurants partner with us and cook in a healthful way—eliminating fats, using fresh herbs and portion control—it just gets the message out to eat smart and eat well,” he says.
More than four years ago, the hospital revamped its food-service operation as a result of poor patient food ratings and adopted an aggressive, healthy-food initiative. The food drastically improved, thanks to guidance from Plow to Plate, a grass-roots program founded in 2006 by three local women. Marydale Debor, a former vice president of external affairs at the hospital, Anne Gallagher, a chef and caterer, and Dr. Diane D’Isodori, a pediatrician, joined forces to bring locally grown food to the hospital and the community.
Among Plow to Plate’s initiatives is Senior Suppers, which invites seniors to enjoy a full dinner for $5 in the hospital café. With entrees like garlic crusted salmon in white wine lemon sauce, the program became so popular that additional seating was added. Another program is called Young Chefs, which teaches middle- and high-school students how to cook from scratch, learn professional culinary skills, and, after visiting local farms, understand where their food comes from.
This year, Plow to Plate will be working with Brookfield High School students, according to D’Isodori. The school procured a grant to build a greenhouse where students can grow their own produce and herbs.
At D’Isodori’s practice, Candlewood Valley Pediatrics in New Milford, a seasonal vegetable display is set up in the lobby. “I think it sends a message that fresh, local produce is a very important part of preventive medicine,” she says. “It’s like Hippocrates said: ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’”
To that end, Gold, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, continues to source ingredients from local farms and to use vegetables harvested from the rooftop garden he installed several years ago. In the café, dishes that border on haute cuisine attract regular diners from the community.
The popular Signature Dish initiative, meanwhile, challenges chefs to get creative. They’ve come up with some exciting stuff, says Gold. G.W. Tavern in Washington prepares a new signature dish each season. For fall, it is a wheat-berry-acorn-squash cake that uses local and organic acorn squash served with sage-honey goat-cheese mousse, a side of baby greens, and apple vinaigrette.
In New Milford, Ristorante Lucia’s signature dish—a poached pear topped with baby greens and hearts of palm and sprinkled with caramelized walnuts and gorgonzola cheese—won a Plow to Plate–sponsored chef contest.
And, with the construction of the hospital’s emergency department underway and relocation of the café, Gold plans to expand the rooftop garden and offer terrace dining. It’s a radical departure from the standard canned-food fare found at most hospitals.
But, says Gold: “Real food is primary care, and it’s good medicine.”