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Farm to Families: Addressing Food Insecurities

September 22, 2022

Blog: Family Connections with Pediatrics

Food insecurity refers to lack of stable access to affordable, nutritious food. This is a problem nationally for many children and families, and in Philadelphia, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 1 in 4 children were food insecure. Early releasing this week in Pediatrics, an Advocacy Case Studies titled, “Farm to Families: Clinic-based Produce Provision to Address Food Insecurity During the Pandemic,” by Brown et al (10.1542/peds.2022-057118) details a test program that has provided families with farm fresh produce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How was the program set up?

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables during the COVID-19 pandemic was even harder for families with low-income in Philadelphia. Farm to Families, started by two Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia clinics in West Philadelphia, set out to find an easy and helpful way to combat this challenge.

The clinics gave out fresh organic fruit and vegetables each week between July and October 2020. The clinic got the produce through a community partner from a community-supported agriculture program. The food was given in easy-to-carry tote bags along with recipe ideas and links to other resources. The produce was free and paid for by a combination of government programs, grants, and donations (cost $14 per bag). Importantly, there were no eligibility, exclusion, or application criteria. Tables were set up in high-traffic areas of the clinic. Anyone visiting the site that day was offered the fresh food- no need for a clinic appointment, and all were encouraged to come back weekly for more.

What were some of the results of the farm to families program?

After the test program, the team did interviews to find out if and how well the program worked:

  • Families trusted the clinic to give food during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Getting food was easy
  • The fresh food was high quality
  • Staff were kind
  • Families were respected so that there was “…no discrimination. Everybody felt equal.”

The interviews also showed that Farm to Families helped in some key ways:

  • Free food allowed families to divert finances to other needed areas
  • Families reported that their household attitudes toward produce changed and improved
  • Children were exposed to and began to like fresh produce
  • Families learned about and felt more comfortable preparing fresh food

The authors also take time in the conclusion of the article to discuss how allowing families to “self-select” for food assistance, instead of using social risk screening to determine who gets food, not only eliminates the burden of doing screening paperwork but shows promise for ensuring more people have access to fresh and healthy food. 

What can you do with this article?

  1. If you or anyone you know experiences food insecurity, consider talking about it with a member of the health team providing care for you, your child, and/or family and sharing the article for discussion.
  2. Does your community have a need for a food distribution project? Is there a clinic or hospital system nearby that would be a great site? Consider talking about this when interacting with your child’s doctor or others on their care team and gathering other community members to get one started.
  3. Many communities already have programs to help children who may be food insecure. For example, schools often have food pantries or provide backpacks of food for children who are food insecure to take home on the weekend. Think about how you can use this article to come up with ideas to expand these programs and connect them to local clinics. Find some partners in your local clinics, schools, and community, and bring them together to plan!
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