When I was a youth, our family was blessed with an abundance of fresh, garden grown, vegetables. Our mother had the proverbial “green thumb” which she and her six other sisters doubtlessly acquired as children working alongside their half native American mother, Effie, in an epic, four acre garden that virtually sustained their family. Mom’s gardening efforts later produced, not only enough vegetables to feed our family, but also most of our neighborhood. As kids, my brother and I worked along side of her from as young as I can remember, and there was plenty to be done – soil preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting days.
As an extra incentive, after harvest, my brother and I loaded our wagon with any surplus vegetables and took to the neighborhood to sell our fresh bounty. After all, who could resist two, grade-school boys with a wagon full of “just picked this morning” red tomatoes or vibrantly green spinach which had never seen the inside of a warehouse. Many customers became “regulars” with standing orders when certain vegetables were in season. They didn’t even mind that we weighed out portions on our bathroom scales. We worried it was less than accurate. But we always threw in some extra because Mom liked a “Baker’s Dozen Philosophy” and we had plenty. The customer comment we most often heard was, “It just tastes better when it’s so fresh.”
Perhaps that’s the reason I’ve always loved fresh vegetables. Those early memories stayed with me. You have never really eaten a tomato until you have its juices dribbling down your chin – right in the patch where you just picked it! No need for salt or pepper – the flavor is it’s own spice. Mom never used insecticides, so, with a quick brushing off, it became the ultimate, “Fast Food.”
But life moves on, doesn’t it. Corporate commercialization of the produce industry often means we have no idea how our produce is grown, what the soil contained, or what chemicals were sprayed on them – let alone when they were harvested and how many miles they had traveled before arriving at our tables. The truth is, you can find an abundance of quality, organically grown produce throughout Vermont. Granted, it’s usually a bit more expensive. But, when you compare the “nutrient value”, you’re actually getting more for your dollar. So, when our doctor mentioned we might qualify for a special program that would provide us fresh, organic, local produce all summer long, we felt like we had won the lottery. We were right!
The Health Care Share Program is one of those programs that simply works as intended. It’s made possible through a unique partnership with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, the University of Vermont Medical Center, TD Bank, other local partners, and local healthcare providers who help identify nutritionally, “at-risk” families. My wife, Rachel, and I qualified because, after more than 40 surgical procedures between us over the past six years, organic produce has often been difficult to keep in our budget. The Health Care Share team changed all of that, and they did so with typical Vermont community based values. Delivery days became more like a gathering of old friends with lots of smiles and sharing recipes. Together we also shared a connection to a broader experience – one not dissimilar to what I experienced years ago in Mom’s garden. We watched the “magical process” of the earth doing what she does best – bringing forth life in the form of the freshest possible produce filled with naturally sourced vitamins, minerals, and flavors.
Well, done Health Care Share Team! Many thanks.
Steven Phillips, PhD, is an educator, author, and conference speaker with nearly 40 years experience who has taught and lectured at colleges and numerous conferences in over 20 nations around the world. He and his wife, Rachel, a former ballet dancer at the Royal Ballet in London and the Kirov in St Petersburg, Russia, moved to Burlington six years ago.