By Heidi Lynch
Shredding beets and carrots into a quick, colorful salad may become a weekly routine for participants of the Health Care Share program this summer. A new initiative of the Vermont Famers Food Center, the Health Care Share is set to begin this July. Each week a box of locally grown produce will be given to families and individuals in Rutland County, at no cost, in exchange for a commitment to improving healthy eating habits through a 12 week program.
The Vermont Farmers Food Center is dedicated to increasing access to fresh, healthy foods produced in our region. Through the Health Care Shares program, the center is bringing together a cooperative network of four small scale and beginning farmers in the Rutland area. They have already started their seeds for the vegetables and fruits that they will be growing to fill 75 Health Care Share boxes.
Participants, who enroll in the program through their health care providers, will pick up their boxes every Wednesday during the growing season. They will spend the summer eating more vegetables and learning about how to cook, budget, and plan meals with a focus on nutrition. It’s a low risk way to try new things while expanding awareness about accessing and eating local, nutritious foods.
Doctor “prescribed” fruit and vegetable programs have been surfacing throughout the country for at least five years now. These programs focus on reaching community members that seek support in accessing and learning about eating and buying fresh produce. Dr. Matthew Kingsbauer, one of the physicians enrolling Rutland Health Care Share participants, says, “This program is a fantastic opportunity to encourage wellness, good nutrition, and - by extension - prevention of the major medical issues that plague Americans.” He believes the program can help treat medical issues at the root of the problem. “Far too much energy, time and money is spent on treating medical issues that are easily preventable through good nutrition and positive lifestyle habits.”
In addition to the food, the Vermont Farmers Food Center, Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, and Hunger Free Vermont will provide educational opportunities to support participants’ efforts to change their diets. Through hands on cooking classes and weekly newsletters, participants will learn how to prepare fresh foods, budget their food, and plan means. They will receive recipes and nutrition tips throughout the program. Although the Health Care Share only runs for 12 weeks, participants will be introduced to the networks of food and cooking support that exist year round in our community.
The farmers participating in the Health Care Share are Alchemy Gardens, Breezy Meadows, Homegrown Garden, and Yoder Farm. For them, the program offers a wholesale market income. They receive payment for their portion of the produce, while the marketing and distributing is handled by the program. Cooperative food systems like this allow new farms to focus on crop production and quality as they establish their operation. Further, aggregating models like the Health Care Share program help to expand the capacity of local food systems.
The program fits into broader plans for the Vermont Farmers Food Center. They plan to build a facility offering large-scale storage and processing capacity. This will provide more local farms access to selling their produce through wholesale market orders from local institutions such as hospitals and schools.
The Health Care Share program arose from conversations last spring with the Vermont Farmers Food Center, farmers, medical professionals, and community members. A collaborator from the get go, Dr. Mark Logan shares, “As a participant in the Health Care Share Program, I have to thank The Vermont Farmers Food Center and the Bowse Health Trust grant sponsorship for bringing this forward thinking program to our community. As a physician, it is correct medicine. We've known for years that healthy food is at the pinnacle of reversing chronic disease, and now we have another home grown voice actually doing something about it.” Now that spring has arrived again, we are heading into our first season of the new project.
Additional Resources on Food Access and Nutrition Programs