VYCC’s Food and Farm Program to go Statewide in 2017

November 18, 2016 | Farm

On Thursday, November 17, 300 families in Chittenden and Washington counties are receiving 25 pounds of organic vegetables grown by youth enrolled in Vermont Youth Conservation Corps programs. Next year, with a $95,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, Orleans County will join this innovative project that addresses hunger and simultaneously provides valuable youth development programming.

Jason Klipa, Walmart’s Director of Government Affairs and Public Relations, was at VYCC’s campus and organic farm in Richmond to present the check on November 16. “The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps supports two goals important to the Walmart Foundation – putting nutritious food on the table for those in need, and helping young people learn the value of work and responsibility for themselves and their neighbors,” Klipa said. “We are proud to support the statewide expansion of this unique organization.”

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In 2012, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps launched the Health Care Share project, which employs local youth to grow food for families unable to afford or access fresh vegetables. Families are referred to the program through their primary care provider and pick up the share at their doctor’s office each week. They receive six months of food, July through September, much like a CSA.

This summer, 475 families participated; and this fall, 300 of them are able to receive a monthly delivery of food. November 17th’s share will be delivered at UVM and Central Vermont Medical Center clinics. It includes spinach, carrots, squash, leeks, onions, potatoes, cabbage, and fresh herbs. The retail value of this nutritious produce is approximately $45 per share.

“Supporting a family of four on a modest income makes it hard to purchase fresh food,” one Health Care Share Member says, “But the Health Care Share allows us to stretch our dollars much farther.”

She acknowledges how hard VYCC Corps Members work, day in and day out, to grow the food that goes into the shares. VYCC Corps Members, ages 15-24, grow and harvest food as a means to develop employment skills and embrace the organization’s mission of personal responsibility.

“My 6-year-old is so excited every time we go get our share,” the Member says. “She asks, ‘what are we going to make today?’ She helps me make it which is an opportunity for us to learn something new together. She doesn’t always like the vegetables, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Cianna, a high school student from the Burlington area, is one of about 100 Corps Members participating in the Food and Farm Program at VYCC this year. She says she enjoys coming to work and has learned to use humor to keep a positive attitude throughout difficult tasks. She is motivated to work hard knowing how appreciated each item of food is by the people that ultimately receive it. This inspires her to take great care in all she does in the fields.

VYCC’s Food and Farm Program Director Paul Feenan states, “While other projects and organizations contribute similar work, none are as far-reaching or create a more intricate web of partners. At the junction of youth development and food access, the Health Care Share is an answer to what ‘prevention’ can mean for Vermont.”

The Health Care Share is currently available in Chittenden, Washington, Rutland, and Bennington counties. Upper Kingdom Food Access Community Initiative is organizing to launch the Health Care Share in Newport next year, following a 2015 Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by North Country Hospital which confirms that community members in this region experience health levels far below the state average. Hunger Free Vermont reports that a staggering 1 in 3 children in Orleans County are food-insecure.

Walmart funding will provide Health Care Shares to families in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. VYCC will employ a crew of local youth to grow and distribute the food. Inquiries regarding VYCC’s Food and Farm Program and Health Care Share can be directed to Paul Feenan at Paul.Feenan@vycc.org.