I was looking for a hopeful story to start the New Year, when I stumbled across a program called Health Care Shares at a community meeting at the UVM Medical Center. The program itself has been around for a while, but recently, it’s taken its mission to help Vermonters eat and live healthier up a notch.
It started with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and the Central Vermont Medical Center. The VYCC works with area youth to farm and harvest fresh produce. And in central Vermont, they partnered with CVMC to provide food-insecure Vermonters with nutritional education and local farm-fresh food. It worked a lot like a typical CSA share: people came to a location and picked up their box of veggies.
Diane Imrie is Director of Nutrition Services at the UVM Medical Center. She’s the driving force behind the hospital’s focus on food sustainability and she’s launched a number of nationally recognized initiatives. And when Diane, the VYCC and the rest of the project team wanted to integrate Health Care Shares more tightly with primary care, they piloted a new approach at the Colchester Family Practice.
Some of the doctors had felt frustrated that while they talked about food security and health, they had little practical involvement. So the team decided that the primary care staff would identify 100 families to participate and the VYCC would deliver the farm shares. A volunteer staff would set up tables and canopies and lay out the week’s farm share so people could see what’s in it, and the team would share recipes or best practices in how to prepare the veggies - even carry food out to people’s cars.
Turns out this structure encourages people to talk directly with one another, sharing stories or experiences. It’s more of a neighborly conversation about food rather than one between patient and provider. And, of course, the response and results have been so positive that the Medical Center is now working on how to expand the program.
So the key to all of this, of course, isn’t the parsnip but the people. Apparently, we love talking about food almost as much as we enjoy eating it.
And stories like this are what keep renewing my faith in both our talent for innovation - and our Vermont community.