Produce distribution for seniors brings more than food
Humana and its partners are bringing a living, breathing food and social support party to senior centers and provider offices near Detroit.
Population Health Leader Laura Garman worked with SharKar (pronounced share care) Farm to create a vibrant new mobile farm market that brings fresh produce to seniors who might not otherwise have the opportunity to shop for their groceries. While the newly-equipped van, featuring refrigeration and climb aboard shopping, was meant to meet immediate needs of residents, its stops have turned into more of a social affair.
“We have five locations and, now, we’re spending two to three hours at a stop,” Laura explained, noting that initially, only Humana had representatives there with well-being and benefit information.
Because Farm on the Move, accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as well as other forms of payment, two additional partners joined forces with SharKar and Humana in August, the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan and Michigan State University Extension, to support the clientele. So often, Laura said, seniors have trouble navigating the sign up process for SNAP benefits, so The National Kidney Foundation of Michigan staffs a table with Humana to assist low-income residents in enrolling.
Picking up where they leave off, Michigan State University Extension personnel then helps residents use the benefits and receive help from supplemental programs through the state or other entities. Senior center and provider office personnel aid residents in preparing for the market’s visit, to assure they have the documents they need.
Laura said the endeavor was an important way to be sure older adult community members who rely on food assistance could access fresh produce and nutritious ingredients as the mobile market.
“Usually, if they get a food box, they don’t have a choice as to what’s in it, so residents love the autonomy to pick out what they want,” Laura said. “And there’s the social aspect to it that makes it special. It is outside and it is in the open air, so it feels safe. People are chatting and we have the cast of characters there, so it becomes a carnival atmosphere with a grocery store in a parking lot.”
And it all started with a dedicated farmer and community leader with vision.
“Sharkar Farm has an incredible team that has a passion for feeding their customers quality produce they grow on their farm,” Laura said. “They have a loyal following and people are thrilled to have the ability to shop locally.”
SharKar Farmer owner Sharon Ostrowski and her family run their all-vegetable 10-acre farm in China, Mich. She said she believes the older adult community deserves the best – particularly in food and health care.
“I can do my part by bringing them the best fresh produce,” she said. “Studies have shown that fresh fruit and vegetables have many health benefits.”