Local home visiting programs provide fresh produce

Aug. 23, 2014 @ 12:14 PM

Cultia Shealey, mother of a 16-month-old toddler, commented that her son has loved getting fruits and vegetables from the home visiting program, Healthy Families Durham.

 “He loves them!” she said. “He’s tried strawberries for the first time, and has even tried cucumbers and zucchini.”  For an active toddler who is learning independent eating skills, this program has been a wonderful way to expose him to fruits and vegetables that he might not try otherwise.

Healthy Families Durham and the Durham Early Head Start Home-Based program, both home visiting family support programs of the Center for Child & Family Health, are collaborating with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the Durham Farmer’s Market and Sarah P. Duke Gardens to provide healthy fruits, vegetables, and staples to Durham families.

Both Healthy Families Durham and Early Head Start Home-Based program provide weekly home visits to parents of children 0-3 years to get the families off to a good start by bringing information about child development, health, safety and nutrition to interested parents.  With the addition of delivering fresh produce, the programs can back up the educational information with a chance for participants to actually experience healthy foods on their dinner table.

About three years ago, the home visiting programs created a cooperative agreement with the Inter-faith Food Shuttle.  Every other Wednesday, home visitors pick up boxes of fresh fruit and staples such as peanut butter and cereal from the IFFS office at Northgate Mall.  In addition, the Wednesday Durham Farmer’s Market vendors offer leftover fruits and vegetables for families involved in Healthy Families and Early Head Start.  Recently, Lindsey Fleetwood, a horticulturist at the Duke Gardens, reached out to the home visiting programs to distribute organic produce grown in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden.  “I feel this collaboration is important because together we are bringing healthy, fresh food to families who truly need it,” Fleetwood said.  ”I feel honored to have the opportunity to give back to our community.”

Home visitors deliver the fresh produce to the homes of the families. Cultia Shealey said that she has received squash, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, strawberries, apples, lettuce, onions and cucumbers. She had never eaten zucchini before, but was willing to try it, and now says, “it’s delicious.”

For these families of young children, many of whom do not have transportation to get to local markets or resources to afford local or organic produce, having fresh, healthy, locally grown food delivered to their home is an added bonus to their involvement in these home visiting programs. “This collaboration is truly one of our most important efforts to promote the health of the children and families,” said Karen Carmody, program director of Healthy Families Durham and Early Head Start Home-Based Program. “Many of our participants struggle with food insecurity or are unable to access fresh foods. Our partners are helping us to meet a growing need for families in Durham.”

Shealey said “it helps me to learn to eat healthier.  I’m not usually a fruit and vegetable person, but by receiving them in my home, it helps me to eat them.  I’m now more likely to look for and buy things like zucchini in the store.”

The good news is that her toddler is actually more likely to eat the fruits and vegetables, too!