Caelan Keenan is food security coordinator at the Farm at Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC).

Caelan Keenan is food security coordinator at the Farm at Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC).

It seems that in the blink of an eye, spring turned to summer and Vermont’s rolling farmland – once gray and muddy – came alive.

I am writing to you from The Farm at the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC), a special piece of land nestled in the Winooski River Valley, where summer is in full swing. Our fields look like many farms across the state: green cabbages make rows of perfect circles, tomatoes turn red in a matter of hours, and feathery green carrot tops blow in the wind.

It’s a beautiful sight to behold for sure. It’s also the vision of something greater – the combined work of hundreds of people, in the name of hundreds of others.

The Farm at VYCC grows food for the Health Care Share (HCS), a UVM Medical Center Partners program you may have read about in Seven Days that distributes vegetable shares to 300 families in need throughout central Vermont. This year, guided by program champions Diane Imrie (Director of Nutrition Services at the UVM Medical Center), Nancy Lothian (Chief Operating Officer at Central Vermont Medical Center), Dr. Alicia Jacobs, and Connor Soderquist, 150 patient families at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s primary care practices participate in the program every week.

The food is grown by youth who work and learn here, volunteers who devote entire days to the project, and young professionals who are learning to farm. Through support and commitment to the program, this food is also grown by community members who see farms and doctor’s offices as inextricably tied: nurses, cardiologists, nutritionists, gynecologists, and pediatricians to name a few. Beyond that, it also includes people who see food and think overall wellbeing: coaches, parents, school cafeteria managers, even English teachers and high school principals. The list goes on.

So those tomatoes, the broccoli, the lettuce, even the chickens we raise here, are proof that food makes a difference. A bag of sugar snap peas can be a child’s afternoon snack. A recipe for a spinach frittata can teach someone a new skill. A whole frozen chicken can answer the inevitable – and in some cases dreaded and unanswerable – question: “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

When we look at food from this perspective, discussions between health care providers and farmers might be the most important conversations of our day. Their relationship, and the creative solutions born of their collaboration, is public health: comprehensive, community-based, and sustainable.

Food is central. It is undeniable, irreplaceable, and consequential. There is nothing so basic, and yet nothing so powerful. The absence of it, the quality of it, the way it is prepared and the way it is enjoyed – all of it matters. This summer, the University of Vermont Medical Center, The Farm at VYCC, Central Vermont Medical Center and countless community members are bringing food front and center. The fields that lay ahead have never looked so promising.

Caelan Keenan is food security coordinator at the Farm at Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC). 

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