Fruits, Veggies and Healthy Advice at The Cleveland Clinic Farmers' Market
Fruit and vegetable growers are doing a healthy business at the Cleveland Clinic. Stands sell out most Wednesdays at a thriving farmers’ market on the hospital’s main campus.
In today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman tags along with the market’s biggest fan on his weekly shopping trip.
“We have strawberries that were fresh-picked,” offers Dana Casto of Woolf Farms along with a sunny smile. She brings her berries to midtown Cleveland from Columbiana County. “We have blueberries and red raspberries, too, today.”
Vendors and shoppers enjoy a festive atmosphere where you’d least expect it: on the front lawn of a hospital.
All about wellness
“This is about as healthy an embodiment of the culture change that you can find,” says Dr. Michael Roizen. He’s been one of the Cleveland Clinic’s top agents of change since 2008 when he became its first chief wellness officer.
“So they have strawberries, and let’s see what else. Green beans. Look at these tomatoes! Look at how beautiful these are!”
The doctor’s equally delighted by the turnout.
"The walkways are beginning to get jammed with people purchasing stuff. So I love, I can’t tell you the thrill I get from this being; it’s a festival!”
Focus on prevention
Roizen’s enthusiasm is not surprising. He’s been guiding a shift in the hospital’s culture to fighting chronic disease by changing lifestyles. “Physical activity, managing stress, avoiding toxins, including tobacco, and some of the others.”
Chief among the others, he says, is nutrition. That’s why the nation’s top heart-care hospital removed all deep fat fryers and booted McDonald’s out of its food court last year. The Clinic also offers employees free smoking cessation, fitness and yoga classes.
“The farmers’ market is emblematic of these environmental changes,” says Roizen. And it’s overflowing with just what the doctor ordered.
Beaming about beets
“Swiss chard. They probably have three different types of peppers over there. Beets. Beets and beet greens are some of the healthiest things you can get.”
Roizen’s sold on farm-fresh beets.
“They have nitrates in them, and they turn into nitric oxide in your blood vessels, which helps dilate your blood vessels so helps you improve circulation.”
This is the eighth season for the Cleveland Clinic’s farmers market. It’s grown to 35 vendors, under the management of Emma Visnic of the non-profit group North Union, which runs nine farmers’ markets throughout Northeast Ohio.
Staff and community benefit
North Union opened a new one just yesterday on Cleveland’s Public Square. And they’re all certified producers markets.
“We actually visit the farms before they want to come,” says Visnic, “and we make sure that they are growing everything that they’re bringing.”
Hours for all the North Union markets are the same as here at the Clinic, 10:30 in the morning till 1:30 in the afternoon.
“It’s not only a staff benefit, “says Visnic, “but a neighborhood benefit for the Cleveland Clinic area. We see a lot of people either walking or jumping on the health line to get here.”
Clinic neighbors like the prices
IanthaHairiston lives nearby.
“I have seen this here over the years. This is the first time I stopped, because I want to start eating more fruit, eating healthier. And the prices are reasonable.”
Natoma Canfield comes from Medina when she has a doctor’s appointment. “Access to wonderful fruits and veggies as a cancer survivor is very important.”
Canfield says she also saves on groceries by stopping here. “For me on Ohio Directional Card, it stretches my money a little further getting the 10 for 10.”
Market Manager Emma Visnic explains 10 for 10.
“We can match up to $10 only to be spent on fruits and vegetables. So the idea is really making sure that people who are on the SNAP program get the same high quality fruits and vegetables that everyone else is.”
Roizen keeps marveling at all there is to enjoy. “There’s fresh asparagus. This is actually a buffet of great tasting food, and healthy food.”
A buffet to which the Clinic’s chief wellness officer welcomes one and all.
“As you can see there are community members. There are some patients, and there are physicians as well.”
“It’s really kind of been a natural connection here,” says North Union’s Visnic. She says the hospital has been a good partner in supporting healthy food and local farmers.
“And staff is just out here shopping, talking to the vendors.They’re wearing their lab coats. They really know what they’re talking about. When someone says, ‘Why do you pick your strawberries at a certain time?’ sometimes the doctors actually know, ‘Oh, it’s higher in vitamins then.’”
Early shoppers fare best
Shoppers appear to enjoy a little free medical advice while they shop. But if you take Roizen’s advice, you’ll shop early. “Usually if you come after one o’clock there’s nothing left.”
Hospital administrator Susan Bickel shops every Wednesday as soon as the market stalls open. “I have it on my calendar, and this is how I get my fresh veggies and fruits for home. I wouldn’t make it to a farmers’ market with my hours if it wasn’t for this being here.”
Patients and their visitors have access
A few feet away, Roizen spots a colleague, Health Unit Coordinator Dana Glicksman, who appreciates the benefit of the market for patients, too.
“I’ve seen a lot of them out here,” she says, “and we let the families know about it going on out here. (It's) something for them to do, too.”
Judy Lee came to the Cleveland Clinic this morning to visit a family member. Her own health’s been good. “About six years ago, my son and I went vegetarian. I dropped 40 pounds and with no effort.”
Before heading home to Piqua, Lee stops for a vegan treat from the Sweet Visions booth. “These are our grandma’s date oatmeal bars,” says owner Barbara Vega. “And then we have them in apricot, and these are real low sugar.”
After eavesdropping on the transaction, Roizen applauds the shopper for sticking with the good stuff.
“Red meat is in fact one of the things that is we know associated with type-2 diabetes, is associated with heart disease and stroke as well as cancer, and so you’re avoiding it is a great thing.”
Brian Back , owner of Backattack Snacks, says the Clinic’s market has been perfect for his product. “Healthy almonds, healthy nutritious snacks, and we’re right in the middle of the health mecca of the Clinic, so why not?”
Roizen agrees. “There’s a large series of data, women’s health study, etc., where just eating an ounce of nuts a day decreases all causes of mortality and disability. It’s really remarkable. And it doesn’t even matter which nuts. Now these are almonds.”
“And," says Back, "we have almonds that are sweet and chocolaty that we actually buy the honey from the vendors at the farmers’ market.”
“Hopefully,” says Roizen, “it’s dark chocolate with them.” Back assures him. “It’s organic raw cacao powder.”
Healthier lunch options
You can also buy a meal at the farmers’ market. Sean Riles, working on a construction job at the hospital, usually has to wolf down his lunch. “Go out and hit the wiener guy out on the street.”
But at the market, Riles has noticed that Mike Fragassi of La Campagna is flipping Italian chicken burgers.
“We put some fresh mozzarella in there,” says Fragassi, “plus sun-dried tomatoes, pesto.”
"It’s a little healthy, “ says Riles. “It’s chicken.”
“Organic chicken,” notes Fragassi. He says he buys it from Tea Hill Farm’s nearby market stand.
Population health benefit
As vendors sell out and shoppers start to leave, the music of Cats on Holiday keeps things festive, but Roizen needs to wrap up the shopping and get back to his patients.
Woolf Farms sells a quart of strawberries for $6. “A little bit higher than your typical grocery store, says vendor Dana Casto, “but you’re getting better product.”
A product that’ll make you healthier, according to Roizen, so you’ll spend less at the pharmacy.
That’s a key goal of the farmers’ market and all the Clinic’s wellness initiatives.
“When the health of the population improves, we spend less on health care.”