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Food for Thought and Healing: Valley Children’s Chef Robert Forges Partnerships with Local Farmers

Published on Sep. 27, 2021

Valley Children’s Chef Robert Ortiz has been working to find opportunities across the Central Valley to bring in fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. What started as a way to help a local farmer who was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has blossomed into a growing partnership to provide a steady flow of the freshest local herbs, fruits and veggies for our staff, patients and families.

“I connected with a farmer who has a very small organic farm. He had a venture with a private school who he had planned to sell his crops to, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school closed temporarily and was unable to complete the purchase,” says Chef Robert Ortiz. “I said to him, whatever you can grow off the land, we will purchase it from you.”

Chef Robert talking with farmer about crops in fieldChef Robert looking at fresh produce at farm

The first purchase was made from David Obermiller of Harvest Fields Organic Farm – a healthy amount of organic oranges.

“We made citrus vinaigrette, orange sauce, orange inspired desserts and we sold them individually, too. I’ve recently used herbs from his garden in our family-to-go meals that have been popular with Hospital staff,” says Chef Robert.

Chef Robert and his team came up with the idea of creating family-to-go meals for Hospital staff, to be able to feed their families and have more time to connect with them, especially during the pandemic. The menu is planned each week and has included “no meat” Mondays and other vegan meal options.

“Myself and my team want the take-home meal to produce a healthier eating habit and still have that home-cooked feeling. We want our staff to avoid hitting a fast food drive-thru at night, but to take and enjoy their family. They can take the time to connect with their family. [These take-home meals] create the opportunity to have a family dinner time.”

While the small organic farm can’t meet all of the food demands at the Hospital, it provides seasonal items that can be easily incorporated into Chef Robert’s meal planning. This week he is using Early Gray tomatoes, a special variety he’s adding to a dish in the family-to-go meal: a summer cucumber and tomato salad.

“We are exploring growing corn right now and the possibilities are endless. What started with one local farm has now grown to supporting other local businesses to include their products. Providing nutritious and delicious foods to our staff, patients and families is so important and it’s wonderful to be able to give back to our community as well,” says Chef Robert.

Chef Robert holding chicken and smiling at camera

Chef Robert came to lead the kitchen at Valley Children’s right before the pandemic hit and has creatively and continuously found ways to bring new, healthy and flavorful recipes and food options to the Hospital.

“This isn’t just a job for me. I treat my staff and our customers like family. This is just the beginning – we started with a small purchase of oranges and micro-greens and now it’s expanding from one small idea, one small farm to several local farms. We are going to bring that farmer’s market ‘feel’ to Valley Children’s!”