What’s in three letters?

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) may be an abstract concept, but it became a memorable reality for some Colchester Family Practice patients this fall.

As a family practice resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center, my work usually involves seeing patients one at a time in the hospital and clinic settings. I have a special interest, but do not often have the opportunity, to participate in public health service as a way to effect health improvement on a larger scale. When Dr. Alicia Jacobs, medical director at Colchester Family Practice, contacted me to ask if I wanted to participate in a community grant project looking into whether a farm share program could improve blood pressure, I was thrilled to be able to take part. What’s more fun than giving out free food and meeting people from the community?

TD Bank generously provided a grant to support a farm share experience for 25 Colchester Family Practice patients as part of a hypertension quality study. The grant included eleven weekly CSA farm shares for participants, including colorful bags of free healthy vegetables from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps farm in Richmond and specialty products from the UVM Medical Center Nutrition Services department.

We gathered weekly at Colchester Family Practice to pass out the shares. Connor Soderquist from VYCC and Diane Imrie from the UVM Medical Center’s Nutrition Services department provided food demonstrations with products from each week’s share to give participants cooking ideas for their bounty. The initial and final share included an assessment of participant’s vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, weight, BMI, and waist circumference. Participants also answered questions about their health habits).

The most rewarding part of the project was getting to know the colorful personalities of the community members and volunteers who participated.

What drew me to family medicine as a specialty was the continuity and long-term relationships primary care doctors are able to develop with patients. This project, and the continuity it provided over several months, allowed me to see an even richer role for a family doctor through Dr. Jacobs’ leadership and fostering a community health project. This project looked into a valuable research question, enhanced patient care by using Colchester Family practice as a space to connect and foster relationships, provided participants with free, healthy food and tools for how to use it, and created a rich and rewarding community experience. You could actually feel the positive energy as people from all different backgrounds came together to share in a common experience.

There are times when the power of community surprises us; when people’s generosity lifts and inspires us. The final farm share pick-up was one of those days. The UVM Medical Center sent a chef over for a BBQ celebration. Music played, children chased each other around the grounds, and pleasant smells wafted into crisp fall air. Rosa, a woman of many hats, who is an Environmental Services employee at the UVM Medical Center and Colchester Family Practice and cook at the UVM Medical Center provided home-made fruit crisps for dessert. Employees from various departments came to see the grant’s fruition, celebrating along with community members, volunteers, doctors, staff, students, family and friends. People hugged, exchanging thanks and stories. When I pulled out of the Colchester Family Practice parking lot that evening, I felt satisfied in every sense.

Although we haven’t finished analyzing the data, farm share participation does trend toward improved blood pressure. And I know that everyone involved is a little better for the experience, through connecting with the community. Thanks to Dr. Jacobs, TD Bank, the UVM Medical Center and everyone who played a role in this farm share project.

Megan Malgeri, MD, is a second year family medicine resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

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