Local farmers just may be the perfect partners for promoting heart-healthy eating.
Those of you who know me personally are aware of my Saturday morning ritual – a class at the gym followed by a trip to my favorite farmers’ market. If I miss a week, I’m genuinely cranky. We talk a lot about farm-fresh food here in our agency. My colleague, Andrea, actually manages a farmers’ market on the weekends. We all get excited when she brings us samples of luscious eggplant and crunchy kale. Some of our other colleagues probably get sick of our constant exchange of recipes and incessant chatter over lunch, cajoling people to try our latest concoction. But, it’s what we do.
And increasingly, it’s what hospitals are doing to promote healthy eating. At the most basic level, hospitals and heart institutes are “sponsoring” fruits and veggies with branded labels. Some are hosting markets on site, encouraging community members and patients to participate. I think it’s a brilliant strategy with a lot of potential.
Apparently others agree. HealthLeaders published an article this week highlighting four ways to maximize a farmers’ market program:
- Improve disease management – Saint Anne’s hospital in Fall River, MA, “prescribes” fruits and vegetables to at-risk patients, including heart patients. They can fill a basket for free at the hospital’s weekly farmers’ market. In order to participate, patients also must work with a hospital dietician and visit their doctor each month. Patients’ family members get to participate as well to encourage healthy eating for the entire household.
- Conduct on-site health screenings for things like blood pressure, BMI, etc. Ohio’s Parma Hospital hosts screenings at its on-site market, but you could sure do this as a sponsor of a community market too. And it’s a great way to make connections with new patients and to gather information for future communications efforts.
- Introduce population health initiatives. Baptist Hospital – DeSoto in Mississippi hosted a one-off farmers’ market that attracted more than 500 people. They said it built a great sense of community among both patients and farmers. And they have plans to extend the program into a 12-week, larger scale initiative.
- Emphasize the importance of healthy eating and give people an easy way to do it. Nutrition education has always been a cornerstone of cardiovascular marketing communications. A farmers’ market is a live laboratory to help people make recommendations come to life. Offering branded recipes and demonstrations are great branding opportunities for your heart program, too. Research says that up to 3/4 of people who shop at farmers’ markets eat more and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables.
If you have pictures of farmers’ market strategies that are working for you, please send them to me. I would love to post them.