Posted by Kristen Pufahl
Reposted from Waltham Daily Tribune

Last month, as I perused the vendors at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market, I was filled with excitement about the unexpected bounty winter has provided. The purpose of a farmers market is to increase access to healthy and local foods, but as a registered dietitian who works with people struggling to make ends meet, I know many members of the community who would not be able to shop at this market.

I work for the Nutrition Services program of Jewish Family & Children's Service of Greater Boston, where we address challenges related to access to healthy foods every day. With the primary goal to improve nutritional health in the community, we provide expert individual counseling, groups, and staff training for people who need to make healthy eating quick, easy, and affordable.

It is well established that people living in poverty are diagnosed with obesity and chronic diseases at higher rates than people living at higher income brackets. To help combat this issue, we created "Food $ense: Healthy Eating on a Budget," a curriculum that includes recipe preparation, tasting, and discussion about meals that cost $2 or less. Participants are often surprised to find out frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh, and there are as many as four teaspoons of added sugar in flavored yogurts.

We have been bringing this hands-on program to seniors, staff working in residences of people with disabilities, families living in homeless shelters, and teen moms for several years. But over time, we realized that there weren't many programs like the one we had created, and we wanted to share our ideas with others outside of JF&CS. So we reached out to the community to see where we could form partnerships and have a greater reach. In April of last year, we were pleased to be awarded the Community Health Network Area (CHNA) 18 New Partnerships grant to work in collaboration with Healthy Waltham and Waltham Fields Community Farm, with the goal of improving access to healthy foods and food resources for the low-income residents of Waltham.

Since then, the partners have reached almost 50 people with Food $ense programs and more than 200 in community-wide events with healthy recipes. At the Waltham Fields Community Farm outreach market last summer, more than 600 bags of farm-fresh produce were distributed for $5 (or free with a voucher given out by JF&CS or another Waltham agency) to Waltham residents to access vegetables they otherwise would not have been able to afford. At the market, I showed visitors how to prepare some of the vegetables in a delicious, inexpensive manner. They loved the recipes (which were also translated into Spanish), and were excited to try them at home. One child who came to the outreach market tried our kale with walnuts and raisins dish, and asked, "which one of the vegetables is this?" and proceeded to fill her mother's bag with kale. She had never tried kale before.

As I stopped at a farmer's table last Saturday to purchase some kale, I thought of that little girl in pigtails and was grateful that I've been given the opportunity to help her and others like her live healthier lives by exposing them to new healthy foods.

Kristen Pufahl is a licensed, registered dietitian working in the JF&CS Nutrition Services program. In addition to her work counseling clients, training staff, and running groups, she chairs the Healthy JF&CS committee. She received her BS in business administration from Georgetown University and her MS in nutrition from Boston University.