From quaint coffee shops and antique stores, to spots with picturesque views of the Delaware River, there are countless hidden gems sprinkled throughout Bucks County.
But one in particular, which has footprints in Langhorne, Bensalem and Levittown, is fighting to shed that “hidden gem” persona in order to help as many residents as possible lead healthy lifestyles.
The program is Farm to Families – a weekly initiative at St. Mary Medical Center, Our Lady of Fatima and Queen of the Universe that offers locals affordable access to mostly organic fruits and vegetables.
Though diets high in nutritious produce are vital, only one in 10 adults is meeting the federal fruit and vegetable recommendations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Farm to Families, a component of St. Mary’s Families Living Well campaign, which works to address the growing obesity epidemic in children and their increased risk for chronic diseases, is working to change those statistics.
According to Jennifer Reilly, a health educator at St. Mary who was on hand during a pick-up event on Wednesday, July 30, Farm to Families distributes approximately 100 boxes of produce each week among the three sites.
Each box, which is filled by Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, contains one leafy green, one starchy vegetable, one or two types of fruits, and two types of vegetables.
Participants can purchase a large box for $15 or a small box for $10, and there is no income requirement. For those who use food pantries, are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or have an EBT card, they are eligible for a $5 box. The amount of food provided is typically able to feed a family of four.
“The boxes are valued at $20 and $30, so they’re getting a pretty good deal,” Reilly said.
Boxes must be pre-ordered a week in advance, and there is no commitment – residents can skip a week or cancel if needed. Any boxes that aren’t picked up are donated. When someone picks up their produce, they’re able to put their name down and secure a box for the following week.
The contents always vary, with alternating extras such as mushrooms, yogurt and cage-free eggs also available.
“A lot of our customers love that they don’t know what’s coming,” Reilly said, adding how they’re able to concoct meals with ingredients they never experimented with before. “They think it’s a lot of fun.”
Registered dieticians are often available during pick-up hours, allowing Farm to Families individuals to taste new, unfamiliar foods and learn recipes for cooking the produce in that week’s box.
Reilly said many residents utilize Farm to Families and Fresh Connect – a free, mobile farmers market in Bristol, Warminster and Ottsville – simultaneously.
“What’s good about us is, we’re open year-round. Unless there’s a major snowstorm, we don’t close. So at least they’re guaranteed,” she said. “Fresh Connect closes for weather, if it’s too hot or too cold. They know they’ll get our box if Fresh Connect closes.”
Farm to Families was launched in 2013 by Joann Dorr, manager of Families Living Well. It was during an evening session of KidShape 2.0, which teaches wellness and nutrition to area families, that she realized attendees couldn’t practice what she was preaching. Many were unable to afford the fresh fruits and vegetables she said were so important for their diets.
Thus, Farm to Families was created as part of Families Living Well, which also encompasses Chop-Chop Cooking Camp – a summer program for Bucks County students that educates them on physical and mental health.
Pick-up locations for Farm to Families are St. Mary Community Center Main Campus (behind hospital, attached to child care center), 1201 Langhorne-Newtown Road, Langhorne, on Wednesdays from 1 to 6 p.m.; Our Lady of Fatima School Center, 2913 Street Road, Bensalem, on Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m.; and Queen of the Universe Parish Center, 2477 Trenton Road, Levittown, on Fridays from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Order a fresh box by calling 215-710-4163 or visiting stmaryhealthcare.org/farmtofamilies. Boxes can be paid for with cash and EBT or credit/debit card in-person at the pick-up location. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com