Healthcare shares: From farm to patient

July 25, 2019 | 

Burlington Free Press Article, July 16, 2019

Blood pressure? Check. Cholesterol? Check. Pasture-raised chicken?

For most of us, the first two are what we expect from a visit to our primary care doctor’s office . . . but here in Vermont, on any given day, you might just find a farmer’s market outside your primary care medical home.

When Fairfax resident Julie Mesick visits her team of providers at Milton Family Medicine, she comes home with a reusable bag of fresh vegetables and a nutrition book with recipes showing her how to sneak vegetables into her family meals. Along the way, she has taken a liking to a few new vegetables, like kohlrabi.

Julie’s is one of more than 400 families or nearly 1,000 Vermonters who benefit from the Health Care Share (HCS), a nationally award-winning project of the Farm at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC). The HCS offers improved access to healthy food for patients through UVM Medical Center family medicine practices and other independent hospitals and providers across the state.  A visit to the primary care team includes a weekly free farm share, a nutrition program notebook and vegetable preparation demonstrations. Participants are identified by their health care providers, based on need, chronic diet-related illness and/or children in the home.

UVM Medical Center and Central Vermont Medical Center together have 6 of the 14 total HCS drop-off sites in the state, each staffed by a location’s Practice Supervisor and a dedicated group of volunteers. UVM Medical Center currently coordinates at four primary care sites – Milton Family Medicine, Colchester Family Medicine, Hinesburg Family Medicine and Winooski Family Health.

The HCS runs from early July until November, but the work to grow the produce occurs all year. Led by the hard work of 50 youth and young adult VYCC Corps Members on crews, the Farm program at VYCC also puts 920 volunteers to work alongside VYCC’s talented farming staff.  Says Lisa Hoare, UVM Medical Center program coordinator, “The food distributed to participating families is grown, harvested and packaged by Vermont young people, ages 15-26 years old, who are employed by the VYCC. These youth and young adults receive a share as well along with farm education and important leadership training.  This program supports youth on both the giving and receiving end and promotes health improvement not only nutritionally but as a community connection.”

“We believe great things happen when young people team up on projects that matter here in Vermont,” said Breck Knauft, VYCC’s Executive Director. “Young people consistently rise to the occasion of not only improving their lives, but the lives of their neighbors. The Health Care Share project is a terrific example of this.”

This effort reflects a shift to primary prevention of disease by prescribing and supporting a healthier diet. Data results from the Health Care Share are promising— in 2018, nearly half the participants reported a change from food-insecure to food-secure at the end of the program. Participants also reported reduced intake of energy drinks or sports drinks, soft drinks or soda, as well as more episodes of eating green leafy vegetables at the end of the program.

Emily Clairmont, registered dietitian at the UVM Medical Center, says, “improving your nutrition will affect your health from your mind to your heart. The Health Care Share project effectively reduces the barrier to access to healthy foods to allow individuals to increase intake of vegetables that provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. And the data show this is happening.”

To learn more, contact Lisa Hoare at