As leaves fall from the trees and cooler weather moves in, the summer growing season at One Straw Farm is winding down. Every Thursday since early June, One Straw Farm supplied 30 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares for the Franciscan Center’s Fresh Harvest CSA Project, a first-year initiative that provided Baltimore City residents with free produce.
A CSA share includes eight types of fruits and vegetables that change weekly, depending on the growing season. During the past five months, participants received items such as red leaf lettuce, kale, cabbage, potatoes, corn strawberries, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, watermelon, green beans and onions. The Center distributed its final shares to recipients on Oct. 31.
“Healthy eating promotes healthy living. This program is lifesaving,” said Michael Smith, who has participated in the Fresh Harvest CSA Project since the beginning of June. “I feel better in terms of my overall health. My cholesterol is down. I sleep better. The program changes your mind in terms of the way you eat; the way you see food. It’s made cooking fun for me and enjoyable – it’s brought out my inner Betty Crocker.”
More than two years in the making, the Center’s Fresh Harvest CSA Project was designed to gather information about how to introduce fresh, healthy foods to economically vulnerable families and individuals in our community while helping them incorporate these foods into their daily diet. Through this project, the Center hoped to provide education on the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as the role food plays in a person’s overall health.
“We are hoping that through the Fresh Harvest CSA Project we are starting a generational change in eating habits and hoping that access to these wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables will be the foundation for behavioral change,” said Executive Director Christian Metzger.
Each week throughout the project, participants received not only fresh, healthy produce from one of Maryland’s premier organic farms, but also recipes, produce descriptions and other educational materials. In August, they had an opportunity to visit One Straw Farm in Whitehall, MD to see where their produce was grown. On three occasions, they were invited to visit a local Safeway with a Health Educator from the University of Maryland Extension Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) program to learn tips on reading food labels and shopping for healthy foods. Guest speakers also provided insight into maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Participants enjoyed visits from Molly Shattuck, founder of Molly Shattuck Vibrant Living, and Fr. Leo Patalinghug, a celebrated chef and priest from the Archdiocese of Baltimore who founded the cable TV show, “Grace Before Meals.”
“Education and increasing a person’s knowledge is a way to break down the barriers people have with healthy living and that is why we offer an educational curriculum and opportunities to learn throughout the project,” added Metzger.
The Center tracked the progress of each participant through a weekly questionnaire, which focused on the produce they received, if they used the recipes and educational material provided, and the number of times they ate a healthy meal with their family or friends. They also completed a detailed survey about their food preferences and lifestyle at the beginning and end of the program.
“The Fresh Harvest CSA Project has the ultimate goal of improving public health. We want to find out what
preferences people have through experiential learning and then use that to grow the program into something
larger,” said Metzger.
Over the next few months, the Franciscan Center plans to analyze this data, which will determine whether a CSA model is a practical distribution method to get healthy foods into under-served populations. The results will also determine future healthy food related programs at the Franciscan Center.