Leaders in Massachusetts worked diligently on a project in 2023 to bring farm-fresh produce to multiple Boston hospitals. Peter Allison, executive director of Farm to Institution New England (FINE), hosted a seminar to share “The Butternut Soup Story” from the past few months.

“The Butternut Soup Story” is “a really exciting story of our network in operation – and a dynamic partnership that started just this last fall … to source 5,000 pounds of butternut squash and turn that into 1,000 gallons of delicious nutritious soup, serving thousands of patients and visitors to hospitals in Boston,” explained Allison.

The leaders of this dynamic partnership include Amy Leigh Galvin, general manager for Bayridge Hospital; Kevin Doherty, director of culinary operations at Commonwealth Kitchen; and Annie Broad, manager of Boston Food Hub. Galvin, Doherty and Broad shared their perspectives and notes on the project.

All of the butternut squash was grown by Plainville Farm in Hadley, MA. The squash was then brought to Commonwealth Kitchen, where they used it to make the soup. The soup was then distributed to various hospitals throughout Boston.

Galvin stated, “Working together to make sure that we could bring farm-to-table to patients has been a great success.” She heard a lot of positive feedback from both the guests and patients at her hospital, which was a great estimate of how beneficial this project was for the community.

Although a successful project, there were some challenges the team faced, and some potential problems that could have made the process more difficult. Overall, because the project was new to these partners, “a lot of it [was] trying to navigate what it’s going to look like,” explained Galvin.

Specifically, she noted there were a lot of components in the supply chain process that she wasn’t aware of until this project. Something that could’ve been a problem was timing. Considering a lot was riding on the availability of the butternut squash, Broad expressed it was essential to “get on top of the availability, and [know] we’ll be in good supply.”

Additionally, since the project occurred in winter, weather could’ve been a potential problem since the produce had to be transported from the farm to the kitchen and then to the hospitals.

Looking toward future projects, the group is considering sourcing other ingredients from local farms for use in another soup or another entrée.

At the end of the day, “people not only want food that tastes great, but also food that makes them feel good,” said Gianina Padula, a colleague of Galvin’s. Some ideas that were bounced around were using grains and mushrooms.

They pay attention to feedback from the hospitals, making sure they “continue to hear from the people in these spaces,” said Galvin.

The three main pieces of advice Doherty had for anyone looking to start a big project like farm-to-institution were the following: “A partnership will move at the speed of trust,” “the answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask” and “anticipating the problem is a big part in solving the problem.”

Learn more at farmtoinstitution.org.

by Kelsi Devolve