Posted April 18, 2024 at 02:37pm by

Using Local Food to Further Health Outcomes and Food Security

Using Local Food to Further Health Outcomes and Food Security

One of the central goals of the Agriculture and Food System Strategic Plan is “Improving access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.” Although much of the work done across the Farm to Plate Network aligns with this goal, perhaps no other group better brings together the food access and health sectors as the CSA and Healthcare Community of Practice (CoP).

The CSA and Healthcare CoP includes professionals and practitioners to better connect on how Food as Medicine programs can help to facilitate enhanced care for patients. These typically seasonal programs provide patients identified as “food insecure” by medical providers with a CSA share to help supplement their diet with a healthy dose of locally grown and produced foods. 

Food as Medicine also has many points in common with evidence-based health programs used outside of Vermont, creating a context for learning from national and regional groups. Apart from improving patients’ health outcomes and food security, these programs provide local farmers with a consistent and reliable revenue stream during their growing season.

“The program has given me the freedom to experiment with different fruits and vegetables that I, most likely, would not have tried otherwise. [The farmers and staff] have been patient with all of my questions and very informative. My refrigerator is stocked with fresh foods (instead of packaged food) and I am not craving the foods that are not as good for me. The program is fantastic!” - 2022 University of Vermont Medical Center Farm Shares for Health Participant

Vermonter Poll 2023 Results

To better relay the impact and breadth of Food as Medicine programs in Vermont, the CSA and Healthcare CoP decided to gather data across programs participating in this team:

  • Healthy Roots Collaborative and NOTCH: Northwest Farmacy CSA
  • University of Vermont’s Farm Shares for Health
  • ACORN’s Farmacy: Food Is Medicine
  • Vermont Youth Conservation Corps’ Health Care Share 
  • Vermont Farmers Food Center’s Farmacy Project

The resulting document, 2022 Data Report: Farm to Plate CSA and Healthcare Community of Practice, provides useful information and tells a story of collective impact for eaters, growers and healthcare professionals alike.

  • 1,841 people reached based on household size
  • $119,212 of local food purchased
  • 670+ volunteer hours to support programs
  • 26 total participating farms
  • 46 participating healthcare clinics
  • 75% of participants screened positive for food insecurity
  • Average annual household income for participants is $10,000
    to $26,000


For healthcare clinics and community organizations interested in replicating the Food as Medicine model, it provides a useful framework that outlines the benefits of such programs. 

Participants, farmers, and community partners alike note an important secondary impact: Food as Medicine programs create connections across communities and populations, many of which are often left outside of the local food marketplace due to cost, lack of transportation and other limiting factors. While picking up their CSA shares, participants may learn new methods for preparing foods, sample recipes, and develop relationships through meeting farmers, volunteers and neighbors. All this serves to strengthen agricultural literacy and the social network so
essential to our food system. 

Of the Food as Medicine participants surveyed, cost was reported as the #1 barrier to purchasing vegetables. Dedicating more funding, especially to regions of the state without such programs such as the Northeast Kingdom and southern Vermont, would help to enhance food security and provide a treatment method that supplements often expensive medical treatments and prescriptions.

This story originally appeared in the 2023 Farm to Plate Annual Report.

About Vermont Farm to Plate

Farm to Plate is Vermont’s statewide food system plan implemented by 350+ member organizations of the Farm to Plate Network to meet the goals of legislation passed in 2009 calling for increased economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improved access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. Vermont’s farm to plate food system plan is the most comprehensive in the country and the only state that has complete government engagement. In 2019, Vermont Farm to Plate was reauthorized beyond 2020. The program is managed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Montpelier, Vermont.