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Fresh Food From Vermont Farmers to Families

Community Health and the Farmacy Project

Mike King believes in the power of nutrition. “I’m a diabetic and my blood sugar is down from 7.6 to 5.1,” he said. He credits his newfound health and diet to Rutland’s Farmacy Project, an initiative of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. “I learned how to eat vegetables and how to cook with them – squashes, tomatoes, things I would have never looked at.”

Rutland residents, Mike and his wife Karen started with the Farmacy Project in 2018 when his primary care doctor at Community Health suggested he take advantage of the program that supplied fresh fruit and vegetables for 12 weeks in the summer. “It’s like Christmas! You never know what you will get,” he said. “I didn’t know what acorn squash was. Now I buy them in the winter.” The Farmacy also helped the Kings discover the food co-ops in Rutland and Middlebury where they now shop regularly, having learned to appreciate the flavors and qualities of organic oats, fresh picked corn, and baking supplies.

The Farmacy Project

About 20 volunteers, all ages and from all walks of life, gather each Wednesday in Rutland to help sort, pack, prepare and distribute fresh fruit and vegetables for 200 families and individuals who want to put healthy, nutritious food on their tables. It’s the seventh year for the Farmacy Project, an initiative with the Rutland County-based nonprofit the Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC). The VFFC has partnered with Community Health, other health service providers, and community organizations to identify the people who are facing food insecurity and chronic diet-related illnesses. Community Health practices in Rutland, Brandon, Castleton, Shoreham, and Mettowee are distribution points where Farmacy members can pick up their weekly shares.

A mixture of 10 to 12 pounds of locally grown lettuce, beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, and countless varieties of Vermont’s summer harvests from up to 10 small scale area farms are distributed to eight locations in Rutland County by the Vermont Foodbank’s Kim Williams. Included in the weekly selections are cooking instructions, nutrition information, and food access resources providing suggestions for food preparation and teaching about how to serve foods not typically part of their diet.

As the pandemic unfolded, it became increasingly important for Community Health patients to have access to healthy food. As a result, Community Health increased support of the VFFC to ensure access to this countywide program. Janel Soren, a Community Health employee and member of the Farmacy Advisory Committee, has been involved in the partnership between Community Health and the Farmacy Program for two seasons. “I have heard feedback from many Farmacy participants about how access to these healthy foods has enriched their lives,” Soren said. “One woman told me that due to the Farmacy program she has lost more than 150 pounds.” Soren said Community Health employees have become involved with the Farmacy program as well. Providers recommend participation in the Farmacy “prescribing food as medicine” directly to their patients and staff members help hand out the food shares.

Farmer’s Market

Jane Costello, a ninth generation Vermonter and owner of Stevens Farmstead in Sudbury, will supply 200 shares of tomatoes and cucumbers for the Farmacy. “I think it’s great to get the word out about the power of healing through nutrition,” she said. “Fostering good nutrition over medication is really big for me.”

As owner of a new farming business, the Farmacy enabled Costello to grow a giant garden on her eight acre retired sheep farm that she hopes to turn into all organic farm acreage. “The Farmacy is more secure. You know your shares are already sold,” she said. “It’s our first year. We put in a greenhouse, and I am also a caterer and a baker. We were heavily involved in the Everyone Eats program too.”

Since 2015, VFFC’s Farmacy has invested over $152,000 in local farms and small business working with 15 clinical partners in the Rutland region to provide over 2,175 individuals with Vermont grown agricultural products.

The fresh produce is purchased through VFFC’s Farmers Network Cooperative which is comprised of small-scale and emerging farms in Rutland County. The Farmacy creates a niche market for these farmers who are compensated at a wholesale rate, linking farm viability and the agricultural economy through this public health initiative. This summer the VFFC is also conducting cooking classes in the commercial kitchen at the organization’s West St. headquarters in Rutland at the site of the old iron works. They also run the greenhouse project for students in Rutland and housed the Everybody Eats restaurant during the pandemic.

VFFC’s Farmacy is sustained through community donations, foundations, trusts, and grant support. Community volunteers, including Rutland area youth from elementary school through college age, help to pack, prepare and distribute the shares each week.

Food Insecurity in Rutland County

According to Feeding America’s most recent Vermont survey (from 2019), there were over 6,300 food insecure people in Rutland County, representing 10.7% of the population. That same survey found that in the U.S. “the overall food insecurity rate was the lowest it had been in more than 20 years.”  In an updated analysis released in early 2021, Feeding America reported that “many people who have been most impacted by the pandemic were food insecure or at risk of food insecurity before Covid-19 and are facing greater hardship since COVID-19.”

For more information about the Farmacy initiative, contact Emma Hileman, Vermont Farmers Food Center Farmacy Project Director, at,  call 802-342-4219 or check the Vermont Farmers Food Center website

For more information about Community Health check our website at

For career opportunities at Community Health check the Career Center or contact Jan Buxton or Anna White at 802-855-2086.

Community Health is Vermont’s largest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), a network of primary care, pediatric, behavioral health, dental, and pharmacy services with offices in Rutland, Brandon, Castleton, West Pawlet, and Shoreham. Community Dental offices are located in Rutland and Shoreham, Community Health Pediatrics is in Rutland, and Behavioral Health services are available at all of our locations. Community Health Express Care Centers, open 7 days a week, are located at the Rutland and Castleton Community Health Centers.

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