Produce in Vermont
August 5, 2015

One of Feeding America-member Vermont Foodbank’s most important, impactful goals is to increase the amount of fresh produce that we distribute statewide. In 2014 we distributed 41 percent more produce than the year before, and in 2015, we have further increased our produce distribution by another 60 precent. We are on our way to achieving our goal of 2 million pounds of produce distributed, including 425,000 pounds of Vermont-grown product, out of an overall goal of 10 million pounds. These remarkable achievements have been made possible due to increased partner agency storage capacity via Vermont Foodbank technical assistance and grants, partnerships with other organizations active in the charitable food system like the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL), the incredible growth of our direct distribution program in cooperation with Support and Services at Home (SASH), and the creation of the VTFresh program.

VT Fresh is a program of the Vermont Foodbank that applies ideas from behavioral economics research to improve the food pantry environment and increase the availability, access and utilization of fresh produce. Behavioral economics offers creative and intuitive strategies that emphasize displays, promotions and messaging tools which make particular choices a bit more prominent than other choices. This can help make it easier for people to make food choices in the moment that are more beneficial to their long-term health. 

VT Fresh is examining what happens if the food pantry environment was set up to encourage people to choose more fruits and vegetables. For example, what if fruit and vegetables were displayed in a more visible, attractive and even beautiful ways – including vibrant signage, produce banners and shelf labels like you might see at a farmers’ market? What would happen if the food pantry was filled with the comforting and welcoming smells of sautéed onions and garlic being cooked with a specific vegetable of the day? What would happen if visitors had a chance to taste a particular vegetable and discover that they actually liked something they previously thought they didn’t like? What would happen if this change in the food environment also created a space to connect with one another, talk about food and share ideas and stories about what we eat? What else might be possible in this space of connecting around food? Could we even introduce visitors to health care providers for simple health screenings and consultations that assist people to better understand the link between food and health? 

To date, VT Fresh statistics and results include:

  • 16 months
  • 16 participating food pantries
  • 286 cooking demos/taste tests
  • 2,312 participants
  • 4,600 contacts
  • 40,117 pounds of produce distributed as result of program
  • 40 percent of participants indicated that they liked a particular vegetable at least 30% more after the taste test/demo
  • 70 percent of participants indicated that they are more likely to eat it again

By impacting the food pantry environment and influencing food choices and preference for fruits and vegetables, a program like VT Fresh may ultimately impact an individual’s dietary behavior and overall health.

Michelle Wallace*Michelle Wallace is the director of community health and fresh food initiatives at the Vermont Foodbank. She provides leadership, strategic direction and supervision of community-based programs and initiatives that promote community wellness as it relates to access to fresh produce, nutrition and health education, workforce development and community food security. She oversees several programs including the Gleaning Program, Community Kitchen Academy, VT Fresh and Pick for Your Neighbor.

**Photos courtesy of the Vermont Foodbank.

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Food Bank Network , Vermont , Vermont Foodbank

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