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A Conversation With … Jennifer Elswick

Mercy Hospital Springfield Director of Co-worker Services

Posted online

Mercy has been hosting a farmers market for 10 years. What originally started the event?
Wellness, engagement and definitely work-life balance. We like to think a lot about work-life balance for our co-workers and look at things like: When they’re going home, where do they have to stop to pick up things? Or what are they not able to do because they are working? That’s how it got started.

Have patients and their families become engaged, as well?
We do overhead announcements so that patients and families and anyone can come down. We have it posted in the cafeteria so they can see it as they go through the line. The vendors have talked to patients and families, and it’s a nice surprise.

Logistically, how does the market work for vendors?
Right now, we have about five vendors, but if I could find space, we could have 10-12 this year. They do not have to pay monthly rent, but they’ll pay 5 percent of sales to the Mercy Health Foundation. It’s a benefit for the vendors as it’s a tax write-off. And then we don’t make a profit – it’s going as a donation, and it goes to our area of greatest need. That’s an area the foundation can look at and, when the request comes in, they can evaluate what needs to be purchased.

How much is raised annually through the market?
Last year, the farmers market raised more than $2,200.

How is the farmers market used as a direct marketing tool for local farmers?
I’ve seen a few who participate in several other markets. They are always able to promote other markets going on where they have special activities. There is so much one-on-one community contact and a lot of conversation going on where they are able to really connect with people and tell them about other opportunities in the community to come out and participate.

What kinds of products are sold during peak season?
Fresh-ground coffee, a variety of produce, there is someone with a greenhouse that just grows plants. Come midsummer, when it gets a little too hot for plants, she will start baking. We have canned goods. We have a vendor that has grass-fed pork.

Are there certain products shoppers are looking for more?
Produce is top of the line. We’ll have a variety of fruits, and it’s just kind of a fun piece of summer.

What is the appeal of a farmers market for the consumer?
They have a lot of conversation with our farmers market vendors about how they grow, the technique and the success they have or the failure they have. It’s a personal touch knowing they buy it from someone and that’s their living. They’re out there working on it. They feel like they’re really doing something good while they’re getting a good product, too.

There is a culture change in medicine pushing for preventive maintenance. It’s interesting seeing a farmers market in a hospital setting. How does this coincide with the medical mission of a hospital?
It promotes that healthy living and healthy lifestyle. Whenever we’re looking at all the most natural products, that’s appealing and it’s good for everyone.

Jennifer Elswick can be reached at jennifer.elswick@mercy.net.

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