Highlands Hospital Creates Market for Area Farmers

Highlands Hospital creates market for area farmers
Highlands Hospital employees Susan Smith and Donna Zavatson review the variety in this week’s produce bag | Lynn Kuhn | The Daily Courier

Hundreds of small farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania spend long days doing hard work.

Even with all that hard work so many unknowns can wreck plans no matter how tentative. But they are passionate about what they do; otherwise, why do it?

“Most of us are struggling along. We’re not trying to get rich,” said Rogers Clawson, co-owner with his wife, Lorraine, of Redrange Farm near New Salem. Rogers Clawson works full-time as a ranger in Forbes State Forest for the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources. During the day, Lorraine, his wife, tends to the farm.

That’s what makes Redrange’s recent agreement with Highlands Hospital in Connellsville so welcome for these small, specialty farmers. They can count on at least one small steady market for their produce. Redrange made its first delivery to the hospital Aug. 9 — nine “potluck” bags of vegetables for hospital employees who pre-ordered. Current plans are to deliver produce every other week.

“I’m getting chills,” said Lorraine Clawson, “because for people to see what we’re doing is huge.”

What Redrange is doing is growing certified organic, heirloom produce and farming heritage breed livestock and free-range poultry to preserve biodiversity using sustainable agricultural practices.

For the hospital, the agreement fits with its overall commitment to health and wellness in the community, and that includes its employees.

Highlands Hospital Creates Market for Area Farmers
Heidi McClain, director of dietary at Highlands Hospital, welcomes Lorraine Clawson of Redrange Farm to Highlands Hospital for Clawson’s first produce delivery | Lynn Kuhn | The Daily Courier

“I think any dietitian wants people to eat more vegetables. And this is a reasonable price and delivered right to their place of employment,” said Heidi McClain, registered dietitian and director of dietary at Highlands. “The fact that they are locally grown and we’re a local community organization fits. And the fact it is organic is an added bonus.”

Employees came to the cafeteria vending area to pick up their first delivery. Donna Zavatson, who works in food service, ordered for her daughter. “She’s on a special diet, and she’s trying to eat better, to eat more vegetables.”

“Anything we can do to help the community,” said Susan Smith from the hospital’s human resources department.

“And I’m excited to get the recipes.” McClain printed out two recipes using the items in the bag for the employees — squash and green bean saute side and baked tomatoes.

“This is really great,” said Jessie Murray Warner from human resources. “I don’t have a garden, and we’re just very excited to get fresh produce.”

For now, the hospital agreement is focusing on produce, but the farm also raises Spanish goats, Karakul sheep and heritage poultry, such as Black Spanish turkeys, Silver Appleyard ducks and Plymouth barred rock chickens. These breeds are hardy, adaptable, genetically diverse and disease resistant. They are all on the Conservation Priority List monitored by The Livestock Conservancy.

The Redrange-Highlands connection began at a meeting at a Lunch & Learn session at Uniontown Eat ‘n’ Park in July set up by Erin Hart, director of Farm to Table Western PA. Hart’s mission is to connect farmers like the Clawsons to markets and consumers. The Clawsons were the only farmers who attended that meeting. But also at the meeting were Michael Edwards, executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, and Dan Cocks, executive director of the Fayette Cultural Trust.

Edwards’ goal is to connect businesses to bring economic traffic through the city for the benefit of its residents. As a result of the meeting, he reached out to places in Connellsville that might be interested in buying produce regularly from the Clawsons.

Heidi McClain was interested.

According to the USDA’s most recent 2017 Census of Agriculture, Fayette County has 834 farms. The average size of the Fayette County farm is 135 acres and the median size is 74 acres. A further breakdown of farms by size shows that 72% of county farms are 10-179 acres. The Clawsons’ farm is about 12 acres, most of which serves as pasture land for the livestock.

Farm to Table Western PA is the local food and healthy eating component of American HealthCare Group, Hart’s family’s business that began focusing on business management for medical practices and has branched into bringing preventive health and wellness services to schools, communities and employer groups. Farm to Table Connect is the business-to-business network component that ultimately brought the Clawsons and Highlands Hospital together.

Lynn Kuhn | Daily Courier | 724-628- 2000, ext. 111 | [email protected].