HCN News & Notes

Easthampton Farm-to-school Program Bears Fruit (and Vegetables)

EASTHAMPTON — Judy Averill, principal of Maple School in Easthampton, and Hope Guardenier, School Sprouts executive director, recently spoke at Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH) about the Farm-to-school programs supported in part by a CDH grant benefiting Maple, Center, and Pepin Elementary Schools. This year, in addition to whole-school farm distributions of kale, carrots, and potatoes, 31 eligible families each received 10 weeks of farm-fresh vegetables delivered to the schools from Mountain View Farm.

Nearly one-third of students in Easthampton public schools are considered economically disadvantaged by the Mass. Department of Education, and the Farm-to-school programs are greatly appreciated by students and families alike, according to Averill. For some children, school can be the primary source of nutritious food, and advocates for the program agree that addressing the unavailability of that source over the summer months would also be a worthy goal for future consideration. In addition to providing some relief from hunger in the community, the Farm-to-school programs also strive to teach young children the connection between the dirt in their garden and the food on their plates; much of what is grown is later served in the schools’ cafeterias.

The Farm-to-school program is one of several community projects funded through Cooley Dickinson’s healthy communities committee, as part of its community benefit program. Community benefit is a requirement of the Affordable Care Act, as well as an expectation of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which oversees charitable organizations. Through the community benefit program, the committee assesses community health needs and works with residents and community organizations to improve health outcomes. Easthampton was identified as a priority community based on health data.

“The work the Easthampton schools and School Sprouts are doing together will have a lasting and positive impact on the health of children and families in Easthampton,” said Jeff Harness, Cooley Dickinson’s director of Community Health and Government Relations, who helped identify the program as a funding priority this year. “I’m thrilled with the work they are doing and with how they’ve leveraged financial support from Cooley Dickinson to expand the program by bringing in other sources of funds.”