Farm at VYCC: Health Care Share

2020 Update:

With funds from City Market Co-op’s 2019 Seedling Grant, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps purchased a VacMaster vacuum seal packaging machine and digital scale/label printer for the Health Care Share.

VYCC’s Health Care Share is a farm-to-hospital public health initiative that connects over 400 families and individuals with fresh, healthy food and nutrition education at their doctor’s office. Health care providers at partnering medical centers identify families experiencing food insecurity, or diet-related illness and prescribe a nutritious diet with a Health Care Share: 15 weeks of fresh fruits, vegetables and poultry. VYCC Food & Farm crews grow and distribute shares to local family practices, medical centers, and community clinics throughout Vermont.

The VacMaster has become a valued member of VYCC’s Food & Farm team. Corps Member are having fun learning new processing skills with the food they grow and harvest. So far they have processed and sealed over 1,250 pounds of product, including soups, sauces, whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, diced peppers, tomatillos, corn, squash, and pork cuts. Corps Members use the newly purchased digital scale to precisely weigh each product package, and print official labels that include ingredients, safe handling recommendations, and internal tracking numbers. The ability to properly seal processed foods diversifies the contents of Health Care Shares beyond fresh vegetables and offers healthy prepared options. Plus, sealed processed foods sold at the VYCC farm stand has helped generate revenue to support the Health Care Share.

When frozen, vacuum sealed products retain the food’s vital nutrients and summer freshness. Throughout the season Corps Members have been sealing and freezing produce to include in 1,200 shares from October through December. During the fall and winter months shares typically include mostly root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and beets. Frozen veggies and local, organic prepared foods add a variety to shares while reducing the need to purchase canned items.

VYCC plans to increase the amount of processed and frozen food in Health Care Shares next summer. The VacMaster will continue to help diversify share contents throughout the year, while allowing Food & Farm Corps Members to build food processing skills as an alternative or addition to farming.

Grant Amount: $5000

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps’ (VYCC) mission is to teach young people personal responsibility through meaningful work that connects us to the land, community, and one another.

VYCC provides transformational growth experiences for young Vermonters, ages 15 - 26, through two programs: Food & Farm and Conservation. Food & Farm Corps Members learn best practices in sustainable agriculture by growing organic produce, eggs, and poultry for local food-insecure families. Conservation Corps Members improve the health of ecosystems through sustainable trail building, watershed restoration, and forest management projects on public lands. 

The work Corps Members complete with VYCC has changed Vermont—cleaner waterways; healthier forests; greater access to local food among low-income families; a more accessible outdoors; and most importantly through the social capital of our alumni. Since 1985, VYCC has propelled more than 6,000 inspired young people into the workforce, and activated generations of Vermonters to be caretakers of their environment and communities.

Ensuring all Vermonters have adequate sustenance is one of the most critical responsibilities of a community. Through our Food & Farm Program’s Health Care Share (HCS) project, VYCC provides Vermont families who suffer from food insecurity and/or diet related illness with a dependable source of farm fresh food.

Breaking down the access barrier to fresh, local, organic vegetables not only provides adequate sustenance, but also creates healthy eating habits and provides financial support. HCS recipients and their families learn and feel the nutritional benefits from the produce they receive. A 2018 HCS recipients wrote, “I have two little boys. They loved how we get new veggies each week. We saved a lot of money and it’s really healthy stuff. It does not go to waste!”

Empowering HCS recipients to learning new recipes and to try cooking with vegetables and poultry they are not familiar with, can inspire healthier lifestyles. Through supplemental learning materials, and cooking demonstrations HCS recipients are often surprised to find the ease of heathier diets, and the benefits of local produce.

VYCC offers an impactful working, learning and growing experience for young people. Our goal is to align the work and learning that students do at VYCC with the personal and professional goals they set. When we achieve this, Corps Members’ experience at VYCC isn’t just a summer job, but part of their road map to reaching their career and education goals. In particular, the Food & Farm Program provides youth with meaningful employment and a set of skills that empowers them to pursue careers in food systems, food security, nutrition, public health, and sustainable agriculture.

VYCC respectfully requests a $4,820 Co-op Seedling Grant to support The Health Care Share project with the purchase of a vacuum sealer and price computing scale/label printer.

For seven consecutive years, the Health Care Share (HCS) has improved access to healthy food for low–to-moderate income Vermonters. While we are proud of the successes of the HCS, we also know that there is a need for our recipients to access healthy vegetables beyond what we provide. We are providing families with shares of healthy food for only four months of the year, while diet related illness and food insecurity is a year-round issue.

One opportunity we see for increasing the amount of food we provide to our HCS recipients is through preserving vegetables when they are in peak production on the farm, and distributing them in the off season. One way we could achieve this is through freezing, which requires no preservatives and when done well, retains vital nutrients until consumption. With the purchase of a vacuum sealer, fruits and vegetables can be preserved in our commercial freezer in order to distribute to families throughout the winter months. This would extend the HCS’s impact beyond the growing season and would provide vital nutritious food to families who struggle with year-round food insecurity and diet related illnesses.

In addition to high quality preserving, we would provide hands-on training to Corps Members, who would receive education on proper food safety for successful preservation, and lessons on the financial benefits of processing fresh produce.