By Amanda Hege, MPH, RDN; Second Harvest Food Bank Nutrition Educator "Connecting Food, Farms, and Nutrition" is the first in a three-part series about the partners and people engaged in our collaborative diabetes prevention pilot program. The series will explore the impact ready access to nutritious, local produce and health education can have in the lives of families who struggle with food insecurity and are at risk of developing diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is preventable and curable. In the U.S., 1 in 3 adults has pre-diabetes. If left untreated, pre-diabetes can lead to Type 2 diabetes and other health complications. We know that people who do not have consistent, reliable access to healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, food insecure families, are at increased risk for developing diabetes. A new pilot program of our food bank is addressing these important connections between food and health.
This summer, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC has teamed up with Mountain Roots Farm and three of our food pantry partners in Ashe County (Jefferson United Methodist Church, Ashe Really Cares, and Ashe Outreach Ministries) to launch Farm Fresh, a diabetes prevention pilot program. Staff and volunteers at the food pantries are using the Center for Disease Control's six-question screening survey to identify individuals and households at-risk for diabetes. Those identified as at-risk are given the option to participate in the pilot. Participating households receive a diabetes-appropriate food package each month that includes locally grown, fresh produce, as well as access to an innovative text-message health education program.
The idea for the collaborative began, as so many good ideas do, as a conversation around a community table. Staff from food pantries serving Ashe County community members shared that they were receiving requests for fresh fruits and vegetables and health education programs.
“We were excited for the opportunity to introduce new health initiatives into our food pantry,” shares Ashley Church, the staff lead for this project at Jefferson United Methodist Church. “Our congregation is a champion supporter of our food pantry and new ideas. We want to encourage healthy food access and felt that this program was a wonderful way to introduce fresh produce and education. We are also thrilled to build connections with local farmers in our community and seek out opportunities for the future!”
While the planning for Farm Fresh began prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the food pantries quickly adapted the program to keep the community safe. The fresh produce provision are prepared on the farm and distributed to households via an outside, contactless drive thru. The text-message health education program offers a unique opportunity to provide tailored health education without the need for in-person interaction.
The produce boxes include items such as half runner beans, cabbage, summer squash, green onions, and cucumbers. Participants have shared that they “love all the fresh vegetables!” and “have not seen this much fresh, quality produce in years!”
Farm Fresh connects the dots around challenges and opportunities in our communities, increasing access to healthy foods for food insecure families, while providing much-needed income for small-scale fruit and vegetable growers in rural, western North Carolina. As a pilot program, Farm Fresh will help us understand the best approaches for our food pantries to obtain produce directly from local farms and the health outcomes of providing fresh produce and text-message education to households at risk for diabetes, who may also face challenges around access to reliable transportation and/or internet service.
The first step to preventing diabetes is knowing your risk. You can take this short online test to identify your risk and accelerate your journey toward good health.