The Food & Farm at VYCC Health Care Share: It Connects Everyone With Food

January 4, 2018 | 

It connects everyone with food: The Food & Farm at VYCC Health Care Share

A VYCC Program Highlight by Emma Homans, Health Care Share AmeriCorps VISTA

Crew after carrot harvestNow that snow covers the ground and the temperatures have dropped below zero, it is hard to believe that just a few months ago our crews were harvesting hundreds of pounds of fresh produce from the fields each day here at the Farm at Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. With white fields and the Farm Barn emptied of all but six Farm Team members, the Farm looks and feels the polar opposite of its busy, bustling self at peak harvest. In season, Crew Leaders return to the Farm Barn with truckloads of summer squash and tomatoes, Corps Members work furiously to run greens through the wash station, and SerVermont AmeriCorps Members offer support from all angles. The literal fruits of their labor go directly to our growing Heath Care Share program.

The Health Care Share (HCS) is a farm-to-hospital public health program that connects Vermont families with fresh food and nutrition education at their doctor’s office. Physicians and health care providers at partnering medical centers identify patient families experiencing food insecurity, diet-related illness, or other distinct health risks and prescribe a Health Care Share: 12 to 15 weeks of fresh fruits and vegetables, tasting samples at pick up, and a resource binder full of recipes, basic cooking tutorials and nutrition information. VYCC Farm crews work throughout Vermont to grow, harvest, pack and deliver shares. Then, each week of the growing season, HCS Member-families pick up their share at their local family practice, medical center, or community clinic. Shares contain 12-15 pounds of new and familiar produce, and a frozen whole chicken in some locations. Thanks to health care and funding partners, the Health Care Share is provided free of charge to all Members.

I was initially drawn to the Health Care Share because it is a project bursting with connections and integration. It draws opposite ends of the food system closer together and finds solutions to one challenge by way of another piece of the puzzle. The Health Care Share connects youth unemployment to food production, hospital patients to healthy food, and so many young people—including myself—to meaningful work that embeds them deeper in their communities. As one of my coworkers said this summer, “There’s something just so simple and beautiful about being able to grow food for your local community and give it to people who need it most.”

Muse BUnlike most of the youth and young people employed here on the Farm, I rarely get to kneel in the soil and work outside in the fields. My service as the SerVermont AmeriCorps VISTA Health Care Share Coordinator keeps me beside the phone and on the computer, and puts me in the unique position to hear every day from the families who pick up flavorful, nutritious, shares each week. My favorite part of the Health Care Share has been speaking with Members, mostly from our Central Vermont Medical Center Health Care Share—enrolling them over the phone in the spring, making reminder calls and answering questions each week during the summer, and hearing their feedback this autumn as the program wrapped up. In these conversations, I hear relief from Vermonters who know that they can feed and nourish their families with nutritious and delicious meals, using ingredients that are often otherwise unaffordable. One Member told me, “I feel so grateful to have received my Health Care Share. It has made a big difference in the way I feel.” Another Member shared, “I was so happy with the delicata squash last month. I had never had it before, but I looked up a recipe for stuffed delicata and it was so delicious!” It was a pleasure to share in her excitement about cooking and eating good food.

Ultimately, I think the Health Care Share is most special in this way: it connects everyone with food, including our Farm crews. Forty-three Youth Corps Members working on the Health Care Share throughout Vermont took home a share to their own families each week. Crew Leaders and Corps Members at the Farm in Richmond prepared lunches for the entire Farm team each day, and Farm Corps Members at all production sites participate in food and nutritional education each week.

Crew after carrot harvestIn 2017, the Health Care Share served more than 500 Member-families statewide through partnerships with 5 major medical centers and 2 community medical sites: Central Vermont, University of Vermont, Southwest Vermont and Rutland Regional Medical Centers, North Country Hospital, Richmond Family Medicine and Mountain Health Center in Bristol. From our estimates, that adds up to nearly 1,700 individuals receiving roughly 140,000 pounds of food through the Health Care Share. When our green VYCC trailer leaves the Farm for delivery each Thursday morning, promptly at 7:15 am and packed full of vegetables, we are offering individuals, families, and physicians a new relationship with food. One of our Members really captured the essence of the program when they said, “In the past, when we got veggie shares, it was hard—now, everybody’s eating it. Everybody’s eating it. I cook them up and my husband and kids take it for lunches.” Here at the Farm at VYCC, we nurture not just plants and Youth Corps Members, but relationships—with brand new Member-families and those who return each year, with medical partners from health centers throughout the state, with community groups who support our work, and most of all, between each of these groups and good food. We may have reached the lull of January, but the Farm is never static. Already we can hear the hum of energy as we prepare to launch into another season of weeding carrots, mentoring youth, and delivering vegetables.

Contact Emma to learn more about this program.