We have been fortunate to work with a series of incredible UMASS Medical Students to implement the Farm to Health Initiative at the Family Health Center of Worcester since 2014. At Family Health Center of Worcester, 90% of patients are low income and over 40% identified as food insecure. Our participant groups included: Adult Diabetes Groups, Prenatal Groups, and a group of families interested in participating in programming to combat youth obesity. Different from previous years, the distribution was able to operate out of a meeting room within the health center, and served exclusively populations who were participating in the above-mentioned groups. Beyond distributing produce, this year’s program emphasized the role of produce as a tool for patients to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, and thereby achieve their health goals.
This year, Annika Bannon and Nell Pinkston led the charge. The star students developed and administered patient surveys to gauge baseline data. They were involved in the early stages of planning this year’s programming, which was drastically different – more personalized – from any previous year. They trained with Cooking Matters to be able to assist with the class subsequently offered at the Family Health Center of Worcester. Once the distribution started and Cooking Matters classes were still operating, that meant that the students were involved in the program each Wednesday from 8:30am in the morning to roughly 8:00pm, with some breaks in between. They were instrumental in facilitating the new program model, which focused on serving small groups and getting to know individuals within those small groups. Annika and Nell made personal phone calls to remind each patient about the program each week, a recommended practice in the field, and enjoyed building relationships with the patients who received the fresh vegetable shares through home delivery. Their calm personalities and strong focus helped patients easily build trust with them. The students diligently tracked participation, maintaining thorough notes from week to week, so that when it comes time to look back on what happened, we have data, not doubts.
As in the past, UMASS Medical School paid the two students to devote their summers, June through early August, to the project. However, just like the medical students before them, Annika and Nell didn’t stop their involvement in early August. Despite resuming their academic obligations, they both continued to make time to call patients weekly to remind them about the distribution, communicate with providers in the health center who led each health group, deliver shares to patient homes, and weigh in on the end of season logistics. They went above and beyond what we had expected of them, and we are truly grateful for their help in making this year’s program a success!
Both students said they really enjoyed getting to know the patients we worked with this summer – especially through the home visits. They shared a story about one of the 11 year old students who participated in the Cooking Matters cooking classes at Family Health Center of Worcester. This young student has been prepping food for meals and cooking at home ever since she started the classes – and even as of a month later! Each week, she proudly invited the UMass Medical School students helping out to see what she has made in the fridge. These relationships came to mean so much to Annika and Nell, who we could easily see, are going to make wonderfully compassionate and grounded doctors. We will miss them, and wish them the absolute best in their studies!