Offering Produce and Hope During Time of Need

Written by: Kayleigh Hudson, Student at Appalachian State University, this is the second installment of a three-part series highlighting Second Harvest Food Bank's the diabetes prevention program pilot in Ashe County. The program began in June 2020 and is running through November 2020.


For far too many people living in Ashe County, food insecurity is a common experience, with many facing uncertainty around how they will provide for themselves or their families. As COVID-19 has spread across the country, the recently launched Farm Fresh local produce program has been a light during difficult times, providing fresh produce across the community.

Through a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank’s emergency feeding partners and Mountain Roots Farm, we are providing fresh produce and text-message-based health education to 100 households in Ashe County. Prior to launching the program, we asked participants what they hope to gain from participating. The majority shared that they were looking forward to having access to fresh produce and that “improving health” was their top priority. We also learned that cost was one of the biggest barriers to accessing fresh produce.

As a current undergraduate student at Appalachian State University studying public health, I understand the value of nutrition and its impact on health. Through the years, I have discovered my passion in working with others to prevent disease and promote good health. I hope to use the opportunities presented to me and the knowledge I have gained to advocate for the health of others who are most at risk in our community.

Through my internship with the Farm Fresh local produce program, it has been a joyful experience to witness the great success that has occurred so far! Farm Fresh has built a collaborative team that is adapting to address food insecurity and keep everyone safe. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with diverse organizations in the community, including Mountain Roots Farm and Second Harvest Food Bank food assistance partners serving Ashe County, including Jefferson United Methodist Church, Ashe Really Cares, and Ashe Outreach Ministries.

The produce "shares" that the program provides includes about six or seven different vegetables, such as pattypan squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, fennel, kale, onions, cabbage, and sweet peppers. Participants receive educational handouts and recipes, including one handout that offered a recipe and tips on how to cut and store pattypan squash. Recognizing that some produce items may not be familiar to everyone, many handouts provide both a recipe and fun facts about the food item. This one shares all about fennel.

In addition to providing fresh produce, participants receive weekly text-messages providing tips about exercise, nutrition, and ways to save on groceries.

Texts can include tips to be more active and be as simple as “Stay home, Stay Active”, and more great tips like the ones available on this handout. Other texts are encouraging participants to eat more balanced meals and snacks, such as “Here are examples of balanced snacks. 1 apple with 1 tsp of peanut butter. String cheese and ½ cup of carrots. Handful of nuts with ½ cup of celery sticks.”

The response to the text messages has been positive, with one participant stating that the text messages “are exactly what I needed to stay on-track. Thank you!” After receiving a text-message tip about how to save money by comparing unit prices, one participant responded, “I have to do that!” She shared how it had been hard for her the past couple months after her partner had died and the Farm Fresh program has been encouraging.

Another participant shared how the Ashe Outreach Ministries food pantry has been a wonderful help for them, stating, “The surprise of fresh farm produce was really wonderful. We really appreciate the diversity of products, too. We are vegetarians, and we know what to do with all those wonderful green things!”

One food pantry partner shared that an elderly participant was in tears explaining that he “hasn’t seen this much quality produce in years.”

Access to fresh vegetables has been a life changing experience for many, and responses like “Thank you so much for my wonderful vegetables!” has been a common occurrence. One participant shared, “The produce was super fresh and was amazing! I am so thankful I was allowed to participate in such a great program. Thank you!”

Individuals participating in the program continue to share their appreciation for the health-based text messages, weekly produce, and recipes. Although the program evaluation is still being assessed, we have already received a lot of positive feedback from multiple participants throughout the survey. We are excited by the results thus far and will continue to strive to help the community make healthier eating choices.

If you are interested in supporting the program or want to get involved, contact Amanda Hege at ahege@secondharvest.org.

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