Two hospitals are thinking local this month, serving up fresh Michigan asparagus

Try this recipe for grilled (Michigan!) asparagus vinaigrette

“Bronson Battle Creek and Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo both signed the Healthy Food in Health Care pledge a few years ago and have been doing incredible work, not just featuring local, sustainable and healthy foods, but really making this the foundation of their food service operations,” according to Nicki Milgrom, organizer with the Ecology Center’s Healthy Food in Health Care program.

“The progress they’ve made is notable, even in the national arena, but there is so much that goes into this work and many challenges along the way that energy can wane, or, for newcomers, figuring out where to start and what to focus on can be overwhelming,” Milgrom says.

Enter Cultivate Michigan, the local purchasing initiative of the new Michigan Farm to Institution Network, a collaboration of the Ecology Center and Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems.

Cultivate Michigan is part of a new initiative to help all institutions in Michigan reach the goal of the Michigan Good Food Charter--purchasing 20 percent of their food from local Michigan producers by 2020. Cultivate Michigan is a coordinated effort to gather data about institutional demand for Michigan agricultural products, something never before done on such a large scale in Michigan.

“Knowing what institutions are buying and what they want is crucial information to be able to communicate to farmers and growers,” Milgrom says. “Institutions in Michigan spend millions of dollars a year on food; imagine the impact if these dollars were going to Michigan farmers, growers, producers and businesses. These are the types of connections the Michigan Farm to Institution Network is making, engaging institutions like hospitals, schools, and universities in Cultivate Michigan.”

Product promotion is an important part of the Cultivate Michigan campaign. Each year, the campaign will focus on four products that are both grown in high quantities in Michigan and are common menu items for institutions. Cultivate Michigan will encourage institutions in the network to purchase these items from local producers, which helps give institutions tangible and realistic starting points for local purchasing efforts while intentionally focusing their efforts on crops that are top producers in Michigan.

“Even for those institutions that have more experience with local purchasing, the product promotions help add fuel to the fire,” Milgrom says. Both Bronson Methodist in Kalamazoo and Bronson Battle Creek are ramping up for the first of Cultivate Michigan’s featured foods this year: asparagus.

“The hospitals’ food service directors decided that nothing would spice up their spring dishes quite like a friendly competition,” Milgrom says. “So both hospitals will be logging the pounds of asparagus they buy this year and competing against each other to see who can buy the most local asparagus.”

“In spite of our smaller facility in Battle Creek, we welcome the competition with our ‘big sister’ in Kalamazoo, and we look forward to ordering and preparing many hundreds of pounds of this great Michigan product,” according to John Fear, director of support services and executive chef at Bronson Battle Creek.

Fear is excited about the competition, listing some of the many ways they are serving asparagus this season: “soups, quiche, stir fries, grilled and chilled on the salad bar, pickled – oh the possibilities!”

Cultivate Michigan features a new item every season and encourages institutions to purchase that product during its peak season to maximize cost efficiency for growers and institutions. With helpful resources like the product purchasing guide and recipes from other institutions and producers, facilities have more access to seasonally available product from local growers and more ways to use it in their meals.

While Cultivate Michigan doesn’t focus on just one product, neither will Bronson. “We plan to have similar competitions for all of Cultivate Michigan’s featured foods: asparagus, apples, blueberries, and tomatoes,” according to Grant Fletcher, system director for food and nutrition and retail services at Bronson Healthcare Group.

Anyone can become a member of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network and institutions can find more information about joining Cultivate Michigan at www.cultivatemichigan.org or by contacting Alyson Oslin at alyson@ecocenter.org.

This month’s recipe is fresh off the battlefield and shared with us by Chef Fear. You can make it at home with the Michigan asparagus now available in farmers markets and grocery stores. (Large-stemmed asparagus works best for this, so steer clear of the little skinny ones, Fear advises.)

GRILLED ASPARAGUS VINAIGRETTE
Serve hot or cold

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs fresh (MICHIGAN!) asparagus
  • 8 oz canola Oil
  • 2 oz dark balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper

Directions

  1. Mix the oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard & pepper in a shaker or mixing bowl – be sure to incorporate well.
  2. Trim asparagus to length – removing only the 2 inches at the stem end.
  3. Drop into boiling, salted water for two minutes.
  4. Remove from water and drop the asparagus directly into the vinaigrette.
  5. Marinate the asparagus for at least two hours, and up to 48 hours.
  6. Grill on high heat on a gas, wood or charcoal grill for three to four minutes or until nicely colored.
  7. Serve immediately if you wish to eat it hot, or allow to cool in the fridge if you prefer to eat it cold.

 

EcoLink — May 2014
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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