The Vanderbilt Farmers' Market and other tools put healthy eating within employees' reach
by Kara Furlong
photo by Steve Green
Rich red, flavorful tomatoes. Plump, juicy peaches and glossy blackberries. Crisp corn, green beans, cucumbers and squash.
One of the distinct pleasures of summer – and of living in Middle Tennessee – is the availability of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables found at farmers’ markets, roadside stands or even in a neighbor’s backyard.
Add Vanderbilt to the list.
Now in its second year, the Vanderbilt Farmers’ Market, open each Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. on Medical Center Plaza, offers a wide selection of seasonal produce. With the addition this summer of pasture-fed meats, locally farmed eggs and milk, handmade cheeses and whole-grain breads, the Farmers’ Market has become a convenient place to purchase fresh foods for many Vanderbilt employees and the surrounding community.
The market, sponsored by Health Plus, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Nashville Farmers’ Market, “originated as part of an effort to create more ‘environmental support’ for healthy living at Vanderbilt,” said Marilyn Holmes, manager at Health Plus. Holmes noted that as part of this effort – which also includes the Start! walking trails on campus and a growing number of healthy food options in campus cafés – the Farmers’ Market “raises awareness about eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, provides a convenient location to purchase these items and supports our local farmers.”
“We know from our Health Risk Assessment data that as a population, we are not getting the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables,” said Lori Rolando, medical director at Health Plus. “The Farmers’ Market supports a real need we have to increase our fruit and vegetable consumption.”
High value is placed on the food’s freshness.
“The average food product travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles before it gets to the grocery store and onto your dinner table,” said Kimberly Tromatore, a health educator at Health Plus who coordinates the types of foods vendors bring in. “All of our vendors are located within 100 miles of Davidson County.”
“It’s important to eat locally,” said vendor Amy Delvin, whose family-run Delvin Farms is located in College Grove, near Franklin, Tenn. “Not only are you supporting the local economy, but eating local means you’re getting the freshest possible food.”
Most store-bought produce is picked green and ripens in transit to store shelves.
“By the time you buy it in the grocery store, it’s already a week old. Everything here,” Delvin said, gesturing to tables piled high with colorful produce, “was harvested this morning.”
Delvin Farms is certified organic and runs the largest CSA program in Tennessee.
“CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture,” Delvin explained. “Members join the program, and essentially they’re buying a share of the farm’s production.” For a set fee, they receive a half-bushel box of eight to 10 varieties of fruits and vegetables each week, which Vanderbilt members pick up at the market.
Jennifer Mokos and Laurel Lunn, Ph.D. students in Vanderbilt’s Community Research and Action program, are splitting a CSA share this summer.
“I’m really excited about the CSA, and the fact that it’s local especially makes me happy,” Mokos said. “I’ve been buying cheese and eggs here as well when I come to pick up my food.”
The market is a boon for its 12 participating vendors. Vanderbilt provides a well-traveled location but makes no money from the market. All profits go directly to the farmers.
Dustin Noble of Noble Springs Dairy in Franklin said the market is helping him realize his dream of turning a longtime hobby into a successful business. A dairy goat farmer since the age of 10, Noble and his fiancée started their dairy and cheese processing plant last August. Their cheese is used in more than half a dozen restaurants and sold at specialty stores around Nashville.
“Vanderbilt is a great venue,” Noble said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people here who seem to really appreciate local products and care about supporting farm businesses and who are dedicated to eating healthy foods.”
Educating the Vanderbilt community in healthy eating practices is an ongoing effort, one made more challenging by an ever-expanding campus.
“We’ve got many people moving to offices and clinic space off site, so we’re focusing on ways that we can bring them information through alternative sources, such as the Web, that they can use wherever they are,” Stacey Kendrick, Health Plus’ health promotion coordinator, said.
Health Plus has added content to its website (http://healthplus.vanderbilt.edu) including Wellcasts, short audio podcasts featuring health advice from Vanderbilt experts; installments of the “Ask the Dietitian” column that appears in the Connection Faculty and Staff Health and Wellness newsletter; and an online library of healthy recipes, among other things.
A new feature is a video series hosted by Kendrick showing viewers how to prepare quick, heart-healthy recipes. The videos are a collaboration between Vanderbilt Heart and Health Plus and are usually shot at a kitchen at the Nashville Farmers’ Market.
“The recipes feature fresh, seasonal items and are easy to prepare,” Kendrick said. “The idea is to show people that they can eat healthy even if they think they don’t have time to cook.
“We wanted the videos to be short – each is around two to two and a half minutes – and fun to watch, so that people could view them from their computers,” said Kendrick, who works with a registered dietitian to utilize low-fat and low-sodium ingredients. Each recipe’s nutritional facts are listed on the website, along with a printable version of the recipe.
Links for all of these features can be found on a webpage called “Eat. Move. Feel.” (http://healthplus.vanderbilt.edu/article/eat-move-feel), which is the title of Health Plus’ Game Plan for Your Health video for 2010.
Faculty and staff who participate in a Vanderbilt Health Plan may complete the steps of Go for the Gold – including the Health Risk Assessment and Wellness Actions Log – to earn wellness credits of up to $240 per year.
The third step is to watch the Game Plan for Your Health video, which this year addresses ways to maintain a healthy weight.
“Maintaining a healthy weight plays a significant role in your overall health and in reducing your risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and even some cancers,” Rolando said.
“We wanted to make a video that didn’t lecture people, but rather offered them common-sense advice,” Kendrick added. “That’s how we came up with this theme of ‘pay attention to what you eat, focus on moving more, and think about the mind-body connection of it all’ – eat, move, feel.”
The Game Plan videos, which feature interviews with Vanderbilt faculty and staff, were viewed by more than 12,000 employees last year. The deadline for completing all of the Go for the Gold steps is Oct. 31. To get started, visit the Health Plus website at http://health plus.vanderbilt.edu.
Those wanting to get their diets on track need only remember that eating right can start with your next meal. Health Plus’ goal is to get everyone at Vanderbilt eating at least five fruits or vegetables each day. Rolando said a good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with fruits or vegetables at every meal.
The Vanderbilt Farmers’ Market, which continues through Oct. 28, is only one resource for accomplishing this goal.
“It’s amazing what a difference incorporating more fresh foods into your diet can make,” Kendrick said.
For more information on Farmers’ Market vendors and a schedule of when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in season, visit http://healthplus.vanderbilt.edu/service/farmer-s-market.