The Manchester VA Medical Center established a Veterans Free Farmers' Market pilot this summer to create a Win-Win connection for the Manchester VA Medical Center, community growers, and Veterans to support their healthy nutritional intake. The idea for this pilot was sparked by an enthusiastic Manchester VA volunteer, a Hannaford employee; and modeled after a successful program at the White River Junction VA.
A team of enthusiastic staff and volunteers came together from Voluntary Services, Healthy Living Program, Diabetes Education Program, Nutrition Services, the Homeless Veterans Outreach and VA Supported Housing (VASH) Programs to create three main goals:
- Bridge the gap between the hungry and nutritionally-challenged community, and groups who have excess food (local growers, employees and local community)
- Increase the Veteran's awareness about healthy living options, and how to include fresh fruit and vegetables in their daily diet
- Foster the sense of VA community and Patient Centered Care for Veterans, Volunteers and Employees.
Planning meetings included development of transporting, sorting and displaying the produce; helping Veterans identify proper portion sizes; creating user-friendly nutritional materials; and methods of collecting feedback from the Veterans and clinicians. These resources incorporated guidelines for cleaning & storing produce, easy and quick nutritional tips and recipes.
The pilot markets were scheduled later in the growing season so that local produce could be more available. The participation was overwhelming. There were 94 Veterans in attendance at the first market, participation kept growing, and by the last one, we had 146 Veterans! Targeted marketing took place through the MOVE! Weight Management, Diabetes and Lipid Management education programs; and VASH and the Homeless Veterans Programs. The primary participants identified for this pilot were Veterans on fixed incomes and in need of extra nutritional support. As time went on and community involvement grew, a wider scope of participants was included.
The response from community partners was overwhelming. The Elliot Healthcare Systems / Hannaford's nutritionist provided quick and easy healthy nutritional tips. The volunteers from Hannaford and the community farms enthusiastically helped the Veterans with their produce selections. Their smiles and friendliness was contagious!
Bags of fresh produce were even hand-delivered by staff to Veterans receiving infusion care in the Oncology clinic, and Veterans from the Homeless and VASH programs that lacked transportation. Nutritionists from the Home Based Primary Care program picked up produce to bring to their patients at their visits. This provided the perfect opportunity to promote healthy eating in the home setting. The Veterans were very appreciative for the healthy produce and additional personal touch.
Feedback received from the Veterans was very positive, and they were happy to share: "Thank you so much!" "Very nice to have fresh vegetables." "Working on doing more cooking at home. And making healthy changes." " It's so helpful for the Veterans." "Awesome job!!!" "Have been eating a lot better since coming to the farmers market!" "Appreciate nutritionist and staff." "Will eat healthier now!" "This is better than my birthday!"
A special thanks goes out to our community partners for supporting this project: Hannaford, Manchester Farmer's Market, Fresh Start Farms, Sunnycrest Farm, International Institute of NH (aka Common Earth Farms), Mack's Apples, Apple Hill Farm, Stormy Moon Vocational Development Farm, and Elwood Orchards.