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In Whatcom County, the F2S acronym for Farms to Schools also stands for Farms to Seniors. The success of Farm to Schools initiatives in her area inspired Julie Meyers, Director of the Whatcom San Juan Senior Nutrition Program for the Whatcom Council on Aging (WCOA), a nonprofit organization in Bellingham, WA. She contacted the F2S group, who were pleased to provide guidance. Then Meyers and WCOA Executive Director, Mary Carlson secured funding from multiple agencies including the Whatcom Community Foundation and the Bellingham Bay Rotary to provide fresh local produce for Meals on Wheels and Congregate (community) Meals participants.
Local farms enthusiastically support the program. Meyers said, “The farmers are so great! We just received blueberries picked yesterday from Boxx Berry Farm. They always call to make sure when the produce will be used to make sure we get the very freshest.” Meyers plans to increase the amount of local produce by connecting with growers on wholesale purchasing and securing additional funds so that the program is sustainable. Unlike the schools, the Senior Nutrition programs run through the height of the summer harvest, and adults are less picky eaters than children. Meyers says, “With the schools, there is a featured item each month, but we are experimenting with this. We don’t have to stick with a tight plan. We sometimes feature whatever is the freshest right now and we’ll include frozen options in the winter.”
Bringing farm fresh produce to senior centers presents some of the same challenges as Farm to School initiatives. Facilities can be limited for processing freshly harvest carrots, for example. “Our kitchen doesn’t have the capacity to handle a truck load of gleaned produce,” says Meyers. “We are exploring ways to use the kitchen differently, such as in the in the afternoon when the kitchen is idle.” Overcoming logistical challenges might be possible through more collaboration with the school district, especially since the schools are already incorporating significantly larger amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables relative to the senior center programs.
Meyers plans to survey clients in the congregate programs and home delivery settings to gauge the impact and preferences of the older adults she is serving. “I want to ask them about what they think of what we have done so far and get their ideas for incorporating more,” says Meyers. “I also want to know how they think the fresh produce impacted their nutrition.” She and her production staff are already evaluating how to lower food costs without sacrificing nutritional quality.
Featured: September 2012
Whatcom & San Juan Counties