Avera McKennan Hospital Food Services and Local Food

Questions & Answers with Nicholas Skajewski, Executive Chef 


What is Avera doing to source food from local producers?

We work closely with Dakota Fresh Food Hub, as well as many independent local farmers. All of our Avera McKennan food service locations are ordering produce, proteins, and grains on a weekly basis per what is in season. Besides all of the wonderful farms that supply Dakota Fresh, some of our favorite farms to work with are Dakota Mushrooms and Microgreens, Mary’s Kitchen and Gardens, and Farm Life Creamery.


Why is this important?

  • We serve local food for a variety of reasons. First, part of our Mission Statement is to “make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities,” so we are proud to source hundreds of pounds of product per week from our local communities, making a small economic impact. 
  • Secondly, because we know how our farmers grow, we are able to serve foods with a decrease in contaminants, chemicals, excess pesticides, and preservatives. This one sums up easily: way better food! 
  • Lastly, we enjoy helping the local economy by doing our part in keeping the money in our communities and creating/sustaining jobs on local farms.


Which producers and organizations are helping Avera provide healthier food options to your patients, staff, etc.

  • Dakota Fresh Food Hub (2nd Street Produce, Brule Creek Farm, Hanisch Farm, Prairie Coteau Farm, Prairie Moon Herbs, Prairies Past, Quail Honey, Svec Farm, Sweetgrass Farm, The Garden Gate, Tillford Rye Farm, Tschetter Farm, Warner’s Produce)
  • Dakota Mushrooms and Microgreens
  • Mary’s Kitchen and Gardens
  • Farm Life Creamery 
  • Coffea Roasterie


What more can be done?

We want to grow our network of local purveyors! I meet with new farmers almost every month, looking to find more ways to source product locally. I also think we could develop a more aggressive marketing campaign to promote the individual farms in relation to what is being served.


What feedback do you hear regarding sourcing locally from physicians, patients, staff?

We have yet to hear something negative! It’s not uncommon for our patrons to wonder how to get the ingredients themselves. We try to share the compliments regarding each product with farmers themselves.


What future goals do you have to build on the current momentum?

We love continuing to see our Chefs and culinary staff hone their creativity and talent utilizing their favorite local products for daily features. I would enjoy seeing Chefs working one-on-one with farmers (more often) to develop custom crop selections for their establishment. It’s a win for everyone involved!


When did Avera McKennan start sourcing locally and how was this identified as a goal? 

Avera McKennan started sourcing local foods many years ago, but our more recent relationship with Dakota Fresh Food Hub has really jump started our weekly supply. This goal began as a way for our Chefs to utilize higher quality product, and then grew to the other health, social, and economic benefits.


What is your background as a chef? 

My background as a Chef starts when I was very young, admiring my grandmother craft up delicacies from her childhood. I enjoyed watching her create, out of “nothing,” the perfect meal. My career has been a creative definition of enjoyment in the restaurant, hotel, private catering, and now healthcare experiences. My diverse culinary background has given me a blended insight that has been rather fun!


How can producers do more to help build the connections with chefs?

Producers can continue to try new products throughout the year. We are always excited to try new offerings as the seasons change. The relationship between producers and Chefs can always benefit from increased communication.