Press release New project ZoBio aims to bridge the gap between organic farming and meals in care facilities

4 members of Zeno hospital staff
AZ ZENO with organic farms Het Polderveld and 't Livinushof. (c) Sophie Nuytten

ILVO food researchers collaborate on challenging project ZoBio: win-win when local-organic farmers and kitchens of healthcare facilities find each other.

KNOKKE-HEIST - "How do we ensure that patients get a tasty and healthy meal every day?" At AZ Zeno, they found the answer to that question several years ago thanks to a collaboration with organic farm the Polderveld. This unique approach led to a more diverse supply of fresh seasonal organic vegetables for patients. The tasty collaboration is the inspiration for the two-year project ZoBio, in which BioForum, ILVO and Flanders' FOOD want to grow 5 similar partnerships between farmer and care. This project had a festive kickoff on March 1.

A network of organic farmers and care institutions came together on Friday, March 1, 2024 at the ZoBio kickoff. The inspiring collaboration of AZ ZENO and Polderveld in Knokke was the ideal setting for this. With this project, BioForum, ILVO and Flanders' FOOD want to set up new partnerships between healthcare institutions and organic farmers. In addition to the cooperation with the Polderveld (Knokke-Heist), AZ Zeno is also starting a cooperation with the Livinushof (Sint-Magriete). In addition, St. Kamillus with CSA De Witte Beek and Legumenhofke (Bierbeek), Curando and Plukhof (Beernem), Zorgband Leie en Schelde with Plukboerderij Grondig (Destelbergen) and AZ Maria Middelares and De Goedinge (Gent) are also involved in the project.

Unique collaborations

Marijke Van Ranst, BioForum vzw: "The example of AZ Zeno cannot be copied one-to-one to other hospitals, because every situation is unique. By exchanging knowledge and experience, the companies involved can learn from each other and thus make the partnerships grow faster. In this way, step by step, we are ensuring more organic and local food in healthcare."

Increasing sales to care institutions is in line with the objective of the Flemish Strategic Plan Bio to increase the share of organic food in public procurement. At the end, the project also wants to formulate recommendations that other public institutions can work with.

In addition, the ZoBio project wants to inspire other farmers and care institutions to take steps towards cooperation. In the course of the project, learning networks will take place in which the knowledge and experiences gained will be shared. Interested care organizations can now contact the project.

Customized approach

During the kick-off meeting, attendees could already be inspired by Chef Catering Pieter De Smet (AZ Zeno), who explained from his kitchen how he and his team have integrated the local offerings: "It was sometimes searching for creative solutions, but there was a lot of desire within my team to do so. Meanwhile, the collaboration with the Polderveld is in the DNA of our operation and fits very well with the vision of the whole organization."

Farmer Lieven Devreese of the Polderveld also finds the cooperation with AZ Zeno very valuable. About half of their products find sales in the hospital. Lieven Devreese: "It is nice that the taste of our products is so appreciated. Moreover, we get a fair price for them. Flexibility is important though, just like good agreements and regular consultation."

Marijke van Ranst confirms, "Within this kind of cooperation, dialogue is very important. A kitchen that wants to order large volumes must realize that vegetables have to be sown months in advance. So coordination around cultivation planning is crucial. And it requires flexibility. A menu can be set a month in advance, but the cauliflower harvest may well happen later if there isn't enough sun."

There are also practical bottlenecks: a kitchen that works predominantly with products that are delivered already cut does not always have the infrastructure to get started with freshly harvested products. ZoBio hopes to solve these bottlenecks and in the end create several new sustainable collaborations between organic farmers and healthcare institutions.

The ZoBio project is supported from the European Investment Fund (EIP) with funds from the Agency for Agriculture and Marine Fisheries.

ZoBio partners

See also