By Stephen Seitz
The Vermont Farmers Food Center has teamed with medical care providers to target patients whose chronic conditions could be improved by bettering their diets. The 12-week program is called Health Care Share and continues through Sept. 23.
Health Care Share was the topic of a recent “Insight” program on PEGTV, aired throughout Rutland County and on demand. The program was hosted by Mountain Times editor and co-publisher Polly Lynn and Rutland Herald news editor Alan Keays. They spoke with Heidi Lynch, the Food Center’s health share program coordinator.
“I understand that the program recently received a $100,000 grant over three years to buy local food from farmers, which will be distributed for free to 75 people with food-related illnesses in our community,” Lynn said, introducing the topic.
“We had enough funding to cover 75 health care shares,” Lynch confirmed. “We worked with primary care providers, we worked with Green Mountain Family Medicine, the community health team from Rutland Regional, Rutland Community Health Center. Each physician had a dedicated number of applications available, so they could have those conversations in the office. They were able to offer this to 20 to 30 participants.” She added that that’s enough to run the program for three years.
“Is there any cost to the participant?” Keays asked.
“Your cost is your commitment to picking up your food each week, attending classes, trying these new recipes, and making a commitment to your health,” Lynch said, adding that there is no financial cost for participants.
“You would have committed with your primary care provider, first” she explained. “In mid-May or early June, you would have gotten a call from me to go over the program, to make sure you understand your commitment, and what you’ll be receiving. If all is well, starting July 8 you come to either the Farmer’s Food Center or the Rutland Community Health Clinic. You show up between 3 and 6 p.m. to receive your bag of vegetables, which is a diverse mix of all varieties. You take home an informational newsletter which has recipes and health tips and details about what’s in the share. You’re also given information about cooking classes, which you’re welcome to participate in for free.”
When discussing what illnesses the program hopes to help overcome, Lynch said “Diabetes is a huge one. Another I hear frequently is fibromyalgia. People tell me they’re working on losing their weight. We have a few patients going through chemotherapy, so they’re seeking this prescription to keep up their immune systems.”
Lynch expects to increase the number of participants the program serves over the next three plus years. “We’re aiming for 100 to 125 next year,” she said. “We hope to work with our initial participants over three years, so that we can measure results and benefits.”
From the farmer’s end, Lynch said, the program is not much different from the normal community-sustained agriculture (CSA) program offered by many farms.
“It pays the farmers for the produce,” she said, adding that the grant “is $100,000 over three years. It works like a typical CSA, where the farmers are paid in advance for the season so they can incorporate those numbers into their crop planning.”
Lynch said the program is modeled on a similar program she worked at in Richmond, Vt.
“I was fortunate enough to work at the farm at Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in Richmond,” she said. “Typically, people are familiar with the model of youth crews building trails in the woods. This is similar. They’re located on a seven-acre farm. They started this program in 2012. They developed this model of combining local food with health care. I applied for a summer Americorps Vista position there in 2012. They were working with Central Vermont Medical Center and UVM Medical Center to have primary care providers treat rural patients who were suffering from chronic disease, as well as facing food insecurity challenges. I worked there for two summers.”
For more information on Health Care Share, visit www.vermontfarmersfoodcenter.org.