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Courtesy Shalom Farms
A Prescription Produce Plan participant picks up items from Shalom Farms after doing a health check in the Creighton Court resource center.
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Courtesy Shalom Farms
Rachel Bulifant of Bon Secours leads a discussion with participants.
Like parents everywhere, Fulton mother-of-four Stephanie Carrington wanted her children to grow up to be healthy. And, like parents everywhere, she knew that their diets had room for improvement. So she enrolled her family in the Prescription Produce Plan — or PPP — an outreach program of Goochland’s Shalom Farms, supported by Bon Secours in the East End’s Creighton Court community. Each week for 12 weeks, Carrington received enough fresh produce for each member of her family to have one cup of it per day, along with advice on how to prepare the vegetables — some of which she had never tried before. When she went to pick up her produce, she would also receive basic medical checks such as blood pressure and body mass index.
“Some of the older residents suggested how to sneak the vegetables into food so my children wouldn’t see it,” she says. “They told me to chop beets finely and put them in the meatloaf. It was a little sweet, but the children ate it.”
Her pickiest child accompanied her to the program’s cooking classes to learn how to prepare vegetables, and because she had cooked them herself, she ate them.
Carrington was so enthusiastic about the program that she became a volunteer. She is now a part-time employee tasked with recruiting participants.
Dominic Barrett of Shalom Farms says the education and support components of the program are vital. “We offer cooking demonstrations, classes, grocery store tours and discussions,” he says. “All the access in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the resources to support it.”
There’s no cost to families, and the only obligation is to commit to eating the fresh produce for all 12 weeks. Shalom Farms looked around the country at existing programs and noticed that these offered “prescriptions,” which families had to pick up in another location without additional support or education. Barrett says that what is good for one person or family might not work for others. By extending the program over 12 weeks, they have time to identify new barriers to adopting a healthy diet.
The second PPP was held at Ramsey Memorial United Methodist Church on the South Side as part of Bon Secours Care-A-Van, a mobile medical clinic for the uninsured. According to Rachel Bulifant, manager of community nutrition at Bon Secours, Care-A-Van medical providers referred patients to PPP to support a more holistic approach to health. “The farm stand that accompanied the weekly produce distribution was a great resource for nonparticipants, the church community and staff, and continued beyond the 12-week program.”
Shalom Farms has been in talks with Cynthia Newbille, councilwoman for the 7th District, about expanding the program to all resource centers in the city over time, and it has had early conversations with residents and leaders of Gilpin Court and Mosby Court about bringing the program there.
Carrington believes the PPP has changed the way she cooks, as well as how she shops. “You go into the store and see that if vegetables are in season, they are cheaper fresh than canned or frozen,” she says. It has changed the way her children eat, too. And to top it all off, her children got to see where their vegetables came from, when program participants visited Shalom Farms.
Bon Secours is the founding — and still the biggest — supporter of the project. Other supporters include the Jenkins Foundation, the Pauley Family Foundation, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and Fit4Kids.
Shalom Farms welcomes volunteers on the farm six days a week from February to November, and it accepts inquiries about bringing the Prescription Produce Plan to new communities at firstname.lastname@example.org or 266-1914.