“It gets to be expensive to eat healthy,” says Vena Williams of Trenton. Her statement reflects Trenton’s status as an urban “food desert,” where grocery stores are scarce. Access to healthy food — which is more costly than highly processed junk food — is extremely limited.
Easy-to-find, easy-to-eat processed food leads to obesity; in fact, according to the 2019 – 2021 Community Health Improvement Plan, developed in partnership between Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (RWJUHH) and The Greater Mercer Public Health Partnership, over 30 percent of Mercer County residents report a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30, which is considered, medically speaking, to be obese.
Additionally, in the report, Mercer County residents report lower activity rates, contributing to weight gain. Combined, obesity and lower activity can lead to the potential for chronic – and in some cases, fatal diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, asthma, cataracts, infertility and sleep apnea.
To combat to obesity epidemic in Mercer County, and in alignment with the top health issue identified in the joint report, RWJUHH partnered with Snipes Farm, The Maker’s and Westminster Presbyterian Church to create the Farm to Family program.
Each Thursday afternoon through October, a share of the produce harvested at Snipes Farm in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, is distributed to 15 Trenton-area families at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1140 Greenwood Ave., Trenton. While they are at the church picking up their crop shares, families can also meet with nutrition and community educators, who consult with them on healthy eating tips, healthy recipes and other healthy lifestyle recommendations.
Each family participating in this program was required to apply. Each also committed to picking up their weekly shares and work on living a healthier lifestyle. Their commitment to healthy living — and the Farm to Family program — is rewarded, too. Families that pick up their shares faithfully receive gift cards for drug stores, ride share services, and other retail establishments to help enhance their weekly produce haul with necessary food and health items. Over $1,000 in gift cards was donated to the program by the employees of RWJUHH.
“Farm to Family provides healthy living education and introduces families to farm fresh fruits and vegetables — something they don’t easily have access to,” says Lauren Stabinsky, director, corporate and community wellness at RWJUHH.
By focusing on the nutritional needs of families with small children, the project seeks to not only teach parents about healthy eating, but also to educate young children on the importance of healthy lifestyles — and to promote a lifetime of wellness. The program began in early July, 2019, and will end in mid-October, at the end of the harvest season. At its conclusion, the program organizers will evaluate the impact of the program on improving healthy behaviors of the participating families.
“Connecting with neighbors in need has been a focus of my chaplaincy and pastoral care ministry,” says Ted Taylor, director, department of pastoral care and training at RWJUHH. “This program expands the hospital’s pastoral presence from the Hamilton campus to our Trenton neighbors, who struggle with access to nutritious food. I’m impressed by how we as a healthcare institution continue to care for our community by attending to body, mind, and soul.”
One participant says, “My family loves to eat fresh food and it gives us a reason to eat together.”