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VA Northern Indiana Health Care System wins the 2022 “Nutrition and Food Service Greening the VA Initiative

VA staff engaging in green initiative projects.
VA Northern Indiana's Nutrition and Food Service staff promotes environmental stability through reduction of food waste and community hunger, garden to table produce production, and have implemented new practices such as bio-digestion, composting, and the offset of harmful greenhouse gasses.

VA’s Sustainability Awards program has been providing recognition to VA facilities and employees for their significant contributions to environmental sustainability since 2010.

VA Northern Indiana Health Care System’s Nutrition and Food Service (N&FS) and Green Environmental Management System teams have won the 2022 “Nutrition and Food Service Greening the VA Initiative”!

In 2021, VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS) launched the Nutrition and Food Service (N&FS) Green Environmental Management System (GEMS) Greening the VA Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to proactively approach and reduce several harmful aspects facing our environment and population.

Through the combined efforts of VANIHCS N&FS, GEMS, leadership, the Center for Development and Civic Engagement (CDCE), and the Community, VANIHCS has achieved reduction of food waste and community hunger, garden to table produce production, and have implemented new practices such as bio-digestion, composting, and the offset of harmful greenhouse gasses.

Reduction of Food Waste and Community Hunger

The food pantry program within N&FS has greatly impacted a community that has been hit hard with financial burdens caused by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. N&FS has successfully donated a total 2,015 food boxes through the VANIHCS food pantry maintained by the CDCE.

“The total value of the boxes that have been distributed to our communities stands at $76,675.95 and continues to grow with each pantry event. We also donate what we can to our local mission, so the food won’t go to waste”, said Lindsay Bartrom, Chief of N&FS.

N&FS also utilizes a biodigester and compost to reduce VANIHCS carbon footprint and help manage food waste.

“Our biodigester biologically digests organic material, which then can go safely down the drain to divert waste from landfills”, said Bartrom.

Garden to Table

In addition to the food waste diversion, N&FS has helped also create and expand a facility garden that provides garden to table nutrition to the Veterans living in the long-term care units.

The VANIHCS garden started in 2015 as a collateral duty and has transformed into an essential part of the Greening the VA Initiative and the VANIHCS facility. VANIHCS even employs a fulltime gardener to maintain the garden and greenhouse.

“We grow key lime, lemon, banana, mango, dragon fruit, passion fruit, guava, cherries, pears, apples, peaches, figs, plums, pomegranate gooseberries, pumpkins, traditional vegetables, herbs and so much more”, Aaron Robinson, Therapeutic Garden Program Coordinator.

In 2020, N&FS started utilizing produce from the garden for Veteran menus and services.

“Food from the garden is used for our inpatient Veterans, food pantries, and our Healthy Teaching Kitchen and MOVE classes. We host giveaways for our Patient Aligned Care Teams. We also decorate the facility with flowers and pumpkins.” Said, Nicholas Jones, our Therapeutic Garden Program Coordinator.

N&FS also provides Healthy Teaching Kitchen Classes to Veterans, staff, and visitors. The classes teach nutritious recipes that are designed to reduce the impact that meat consumption has on the environment. The classes have been very well received and come in the form of in-person events, and creative videos with facilities leaders leading the way on healthy eating.

In all, N&FS has a total of 5,549.95 lbs. of food reduced at the source in the form of donations to the community, 29,212 lbs. of food have been composted for use in the Garden to Table program and the total for digestion of food waste stands at 13,029 lbs.

“Winning this award is just another example of the Tip of the Spear approach that the Northern Indiana VA team takes to provide not only state of the art healthcare but state of the art resource management.  This collaboration was an opportunity to build a program that provides back to our Veteran community both nutritionally and financially”, said Anthony Colón, Interim Medical Center Director.

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