Prescriptions for peppers: Connecting our community over fresh food

July 15, 2018 | 

From the Milton Independant

Vermont ranks first in the United States in its commitment to eating locally grown foods. However, more than 64,000 Vermonters live in food-insecure households, including almost 18,000 children. To help address this problem, local organizations have joined together as a network of farmers, health professionals, non-profits and volunteers who are passionate about providing Vermont communities with farm-fresh foods, information on healthy eating and tips for healthy living.

The farm-to-patient collaboration, called the Health Care Share program, allows health care providers to prescribe their patients a season’s share of locally-grown vegetables, herbs and fruit.

The Health Care Share program started as a partnership between the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. The UVM Medical Center joined in the second year, offering demonstrations, tastings and a comprehensive patient notebook with food safety advice and recipes.

The program supports local families in eating together, enjoying home-cooked meals year round, and cooking with fresh, local produce. Joining helps patients and their families work toward cultivating a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle habits. All summer, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps members work hard to grow, glean, pack and deliver vegetables for the Health Care Share program statewide. This effort links youth employment to a hunger solution for Vermont, allowing young people to make a direct and measurable impact in their communities.

For five consecutive years, the program has improved access to healthy food for low- to moderate-income patients. In 2017, the program served more than 100 households in Chittenden County. Participating UVM Medical Center sites include Colchester Family Medicine, Milton Family Medicine, and South Burlington Family Medicine. The fourth site, which is not a part of the UVM Health Network, is Winooski Family Health.

The 2018 season lasts for 12 weeks, from July 12 to September 27. Once a week, the front door of our patients’ medical homes is transformed into a farmers’ market where patients receive their shares, which include 12-15 pounds of produce each week. Staff and volunteers are on hand to talk about what’s in the share, offer samples of unfamiliar veggies, and provide cooking and health information.

Members complete a health and nutrition survey at the beginning and end of each season. Last season, the survey showed wide improvements in cooking confidence among participants – from planning meals, to cooking skills, to the ability to prepare meals from scratch.

In 2017, the collaboration expanded to try new ideas with the Vermont Foodbank, Vermont Lake Monsters, Salvation Farms and the Good Food Truck. The Health Care Share program is made possible by the longstanding support of the Children’s Miracle Network and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Annual Fund, as well as donations from a variety of health care providers and other foundation donors. Newman’s Own Foundation is also funding the program in 2018.

Try some of these tips to eat healthier today:

  • Make plant-based proteins a regular part of your daily diet by eating more beans, peas, nuts, lentils, seeds and intact (minimally processed) grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, barley and millet.
  • Fill your plate with a variety of deeply colored vegetables and fruits. Make veggies half of your plate at lunch and dinner.
  • Rethink your drink. Choose beverages such as water, unsweetened coffee and teas, low-fat dairy with minimal added sugar, or fermented beverages instead of sugary drinks.
  • Boost flavor by using spices and acids like lemon or vinegar.