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CONCORD / WARNER

Organic farmer to team up with hospital

'Produce will be provided for about $5,000'

Larry Pletcher's dream of selling his own crops, realized more than 10 years ago with the Vegetable Ranch in Warner, meshed with Concord Hospital's desire to buy locally in an agreement announced this week.

The Vegetable Ranch, seller of certified organic produce, will provide the hospital with potatoes, scallions, squash and cherry tomatoes through the summer, at a cost of about $5,000, said Tom Serafin, director of food services at the hospital.

Some of the food will be grown on Pletcher's 10-acre farm in Warner, while some will be grown on five acres at St. Paul's School, which leased out its property in exchange for vegetables for its own food services. The field, along Silk Farm Road, is less than one mile from the hospital.

"What makes sense to us using that field at St Paul's School is that this is just incredibly convenient for us as a delivery place, a site, and the hospital gets stuff pretty quickly," Pletcher said.

Pletcher, who's lived in Warner for 37 years, worked for the state's court system for 19 years before following his instincts and chasing a dream.

He'd always farmed his own food, creating a small-market operation with his grade-school aged daughter in the 1990s. Then, about 11 years ago, after his daughter had finished her equestrian career and gone to college, Pletcher quit his state job and began his new career.

"We've lived here for 37 years, and I knew that's what I wanted to do, and I was eager to do it," Pletcher said. "To be perfectly honest, as I look back on it, I wish I'd done it sooner. Things are good."

Pletcher and his wife started with 2½ acres and steadily grew from there. They now participate in the Community Supported Agriculture program, storing potatoes and onions for winter distribution. That program ends next week and in June they will seamlessly move into what the two parties are calling the Hospital Supported Agriculture Agreement.

An informal partnership has existed between Pletcher and the hospital the past few years, with vegetables being sold as were needed. But this marks the first long-term relationship, a summer-long deal that both are excited about.

"What's great about this is last year we did do some of this with the Vegetable Ranch and Larry, and it worked out great," Serafin said. "It was extremely well received by our customers. They loved it and felt good about it, so we took the time over the winter to work with Larry what we know worked well, stuff we know that can easily be integrated into both patient feeding and our retail environment."

Added Pletcher, "We're looking forward to suppl-ying them produce this summer."

The agreement continues Concord Hospital's desire to pump money into the area's economy, a fact Serafin says is always a goal.

"We've historically - and long before it became trendy - supported local as much as possible," Serafin said. "Should it work well, we absolutely would love to discuss expanding it and working with other providers."

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)