Growing health: Building partnerships in healthcare and food systems for improved food access in Appalachia

Annie Koempel, Lilian Brislen, Krista Jacobsen, Jessica Clouser, Nikita Vundi, Jing Li, Mark A. Williams, Mark V. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hospitals not only provide access to healthcare ser-vices in rural areas; they also serve as major em-ployers and economic drivers. The goal of this pilot study was to improve our understanding of how a rural healthcare system in Appalachian Kentucky could be leveraged to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables. We conducted 11 semi-structured interviews with food system and healthcare stake-holders in Hazard, Kentucky, to (1) improve our understanding of key barriers to accessing and uti-lizing fresh produce for healthcare worker and pa-tient populations, (2) identify models for direct-to-consumer market channels and farm-to-institution programming in collaboration with a local hospital, and (3) explore the potential of those models to foster greater consumption of fruit and vegetables among community members. Stakeholders emphasized the need for staff support and funding during program development and discussed the difficulty in maintaining prior local food and health promotion efforts when pilot funding expired. Other considerations included the importance of community ownership, robust com-munication and coordination among stakeholders, and attunement to the opportunities and challenges of a hospital-based approach. Direct farm-to-con-sumer models were considered feasible but would require accommodation for low-income consum-ers, such as vouchers, sliding-scale payment meth-ods, or “double dollar” programs. Farm-to-hospital initiatives were discussed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced hospital cafete-ria usage, which may limit the success of some events but highlights the potential for to-go op-tions such as pre-prepared salads, lightly processed snacks, and medically tailored meal kits. Results of this study illustrate the challenges and opportunities of leveraging a rural hospital as an anchor institution for expanding local food system development in rural Appalachia. This study also offers insights into the intersections of health, culture, and economy in an Appalachian commu-nity, and provides a framework for expanding local food system initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-271
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022


  • Appalachia
  • Farm-to-Institution
  • Hospitals
  • Prevention
  • Procurement
  • Rural
  • Social Determinants of Health


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