GEORGETOWN It’s not a stretch of the imagination to accept that our relationship with food has a direct correlation to our health. That’s why the Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK) is partnering with UK Wellness Program to provide employees a consistent, seasonal supply of wholesome, certified organic fruits and vegetables. Five organic farms in Central Kentucky are participating in a pilot program, managed by Bluegrass Harvest, to incentivize people to contract with a farm to provide the veggies on a weekly basis. UK Health & Wellness is offering $200 vouchers to some UK employees who join a local organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share program. This investment is well worth it, based on the preliminary data from last year’s initial research project and follow-up study.
Some farmers sell “shares” of their farm in a CSA program. Customers invest in a farm to ensure they get a “share” of the bounty produced on the farm. Each farm operates a little differently, but the consumer contracts and pays a lump sum of money to the farmer ahead of the season, and the farmer agrees to deliver a weekly share of produce from May to October. This relationship not only helps the growers capitalize seasonal startup costs like seed, greenhouse heat, and labor, it also begins a dialogue about seasonal availability of foods, sharing of recipes, and a sense of commitment to consume all the foods in the share each week. Some farms have informative newsletters with each share or offer tours of the farm for their shareholders. Over the years, these arrangements have grown to include shares of organic meats and eggs, not just fruits and vegetables.
Simply stated, funds that incentivize people to consume more fruits and vegetables should not support the use of toxic chemicals, which have often been linked to cancer or other insidious diseases. Additionally, a recent study at the UK College of Agriculture shows that vegetables grown organically had more diverse microbial profiles (aka healthy plant biome) than did conventionally grown produce grown with fungicides, insecticides, and salt-forming fertilizers. (http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpls.2015.00490/abstract)
The Human Microbiome Project draws a direct link between gut health and natural immunity. A reasonable person would conclude that if healthy soil makes for a healthy plant, a healthy plant will make for a healthy human.
Wholesome Wave, Community Farm Alliance, and others have led successful programs where physicians write prescriptions for fruits and vegetables to patients with diabetes and/or high blood pressure, with some individual success to show for it.
As people increase their knowledge of food and food production, they modify their dietary habits, improve their nutrition, and ultimately see healthy outcomes as a result. Food Rx projects are in conjunction with local farmers markets, which keep those dollars in the community and elevate the conversation about food throughout the community.
In Kentucky, Bluegrass Harvest is available to consult with other healthcare providers, employers, and wellness centers to set up a healthy eating investment on behalf of their customers, staff, and clients. OAK’s partnership with UK Wellness organizes a connection between the growers and the eaters. Clinicians benefit from having healthier patients. CSA members that partner with an organic farm are healthier people. Investing in the “farm you see” may be advantageous over relying on the pharmacy.
Mac Stone, his wife Ann Bell Stone, and extended family operate Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County, Kentucky. Mac was the executive director of marketing for the KY Dept. of Agriculture, administering the Kentucky Proud program among many others. He is former chair of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board. His focus is on farming and marketing organic foods for the family and working with non-profit agriculture and food organizations. Mac can be reached at 859.621.0756.