This year, CHP partnered with Hector Reyes House (Worcester), the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden (Harvard) and the Family Health Center of Worcester (Worcester) to implement the Farm to Health Initiative. The initiative is a comprehensive program that supports food-insecure patients in including fresh produce distributions and nutrition education as strategies for increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables. While we don’t measure health outcomes, the hope is that by removing the barrier of cost and providing nutrition education targeting patients with specific health issues, patients will develop healthy eating habits that improve their health long-term. The program is implemented through a 3-year grant funding from Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation.
One of our new partners this year was Hector Reyes House in Worcester, a recovery program for Latino adult males. About 10-20 men from Hector Reyes came bi-weekly to volunteer harvesting produce, learn about nutrition through a partnership with UMASS Extension Nutrition Education Program, and then take the fruits and vegetables home with them. They learned practical cooking skills and new recipes over 5 sessions in nutrition education. The men shared that they would use what they’d learned to eat healthy, control their weight, and support a healthy diet for working out. Over 1,746 pounds – or 7,507 servings – of fresh produce from the farm supplemented residents’ diet over the course of our growing season. These gentlemen were a pleasure to host each week – we will miss them!
Our other new partner this year was the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden in Harvard, Massachusetts, an organization that offers a holistic approach to treating cancer patients and their families. Here, we distributed produce bi-weekly to 15 food insecure families in conjunction with a series of lectures on nutrition specific to patients recovering from cancer. Every minute spent with these individuals gave inspiration and nourishment to the power of community because of the partnership. One person even said, “I started going to the fresh produce first instead of the junk food because of CHP… I love being able to have the healthy option.” 889 pounds – or 4,024 servings – of fresh produce were distributed throughout the season at the Healing Garden. The partnership there proved to be a huge success!
We continued partnering with the Family Health Center of Worcester to distribute produce to 35 families on a weekly basis. Different from previous years, patients were enrolled through their participation in health workgroups: prenatal groups, adult diabetes groups, and a youth obesity group. Healthcare providers who led the workgroups distributed bags of produce at their group meetings, some patients picked up at the health center, and the UMASS Medical students delivered produce to some patients. Annika Bannon, of the UMASS Medical students, shared, “One of the most memorable moments was seeing the face of one of the participants look in her produce bag. She had a stern face when she came to pick up, but she softened when she took a look inside. I felt like I could just see the stress melting off of her.” Cooking Matters also led a series of classes for the youth obesity group involving parents. While there were fewer opportunities for volunteers to assist with this produce distribution compared to last year, the experience was much improved for participating patients. Distributing 2,361 pounds – or 11,547 servings – of produce was distributed to patients over 12 weeks. We are now working with a Population Health Clerkship team of UMASS Medical students to analyze participant and provider feedback about this partnership. We couldn’t have done it without the amazing patients and invested healthcare professionals at Family Health Center of Worcester, volunteers at CHP, and the UMass Medical students involved.
All said and done, none of the partnerships could have been sustained without help. From the volunteers in the fields, to the volunteers and staff members at our partner agencies, a heartfelt thank you is in order.
Thank you all for doing the good work you do in and around our community – at CHP and every agency participating in the Farm to Health Initiative. Each hand involved was deeply impactful.