Right Here, Where it Matters

It’s not common to find a farmer market sets up in the waiting room of a Community Clinic.  And it’s certainly not common that a market can run year-round with fresh produce as well as eggs, cheese, meats, bakery, and more.  In fact, despite travels throughout the state and on the east and west coasts, we have yet to find a similar arrangement.  But this is happening right here in Hayward, even in the depths of winter.

Now in our 4th year partnering with NorthLakes Community Clinic to actively increase access to fresh and local foods, it’s one of the many community-engaged efforts that align with our farm’s vision:  A healthy planet and all its inhabitants.

For us, the overlap of local foods and health care makes real sense.  When we think about the whole health of a person (beyond treating an immediate illness), dietary choices play an essential role.  You can talk until you are blue about how important it is to eat right, but this can fall on deaf ears if the recipients feel they have no choices available to them.

Here’s an example my dad Steve likes to use when explaining the situation:

The old saying goes that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.  But this message misses part of the picture.  Sometimes you do have to give someone a fish because they really need to eat.  And sometimes you can teach someone to fish, but only if they are willing to learn.  But what good is it to teach someone to fish when they live in the desert?  You have to also make a pool from which they can fish in order to truly make a difference.

Our partnership with NorthLakes Community Clinic works on all three levels of this model.  By hosting a twice monthly farmer market on first and third Thursdays, all year (which is open to the public), we are building a pool from which to fish.  Anyone who appreciates the farmer market environment or our farm and its products now has easier access to high integrity local foods.  They don’t even need to have any other relationship with the clinic.  The pool is open.

And then there is the teaching part.  This happens through the clinic’s Farm-to-Patient CSA program.  Here, a select group of patients are offered membership in a year’s worth of produce from the farm.  A staff member helps participants learn about what’s in their share at each pickup, as well as offer cooking and storing tips and recipes.  These patients have committed to meaningful health goals that will be aided by the increase in fresh, whole foods, even though the adventure means embracing new vegetables.  The teaching process builds relationships as well as skills, creating transitions from initial resistance to being eager for the next share pickup and seeing what surprises are inside.

But there is also the fish giving.  People need to eat, and we each make choices about what we’re going to eat every day.  We can get into a rut about meal choices—going for what we know and what is easy.  Trying something new might feel stressful.  In this case, actually tasting the difference (or tasting something for the first time) needs to be as friendly as possible to start the process.  It might be much harder to encourage someone to start fishing if they’ve never tasted fish (or, never had fish that was prepared well)!

Originally, vouchers for patients to use during the farmer market were printed via a private grant, but when the grant ran out, so did the vouchers.  But what about giving a fish?  What about the important icebreaker into the process?  Last year, we (North Star Homestead Farms) decided to take the lead and offered a series of community dinners that raised funds to print 100 vouchers for the 2018 season.  This year, with a series of “Share the Bounty” Sunday breakfasts, we’re hoping to raise $1000 for printing 200 vouchers for the 2019 season.

This isn’t for a nebulous project that will affect someone somewhere after it’s run the gauntlet through committees and been shorn down by overhead.  These funds translate directly into healthful local produce, eggs, and meats in the hands of people right in this community who could use it most.  We believe that many people see the value in helping our neighbors have access to fresh, wholesome foods as much as we do.  We hope that this would also include you, the reader of this column.  You’ve had a chance to see how hard we work to make this food possible.  Let’s all share in the bounty!  Here are ways you can participate in making this happen.

Join us for a Sunday Breakfast:  through April, 9 am to 3 pm for Chef Kara’s signature sweet or savory Bismarks, featuring ingredients from the farm.  We will also be offering Open Mic time, so you can bring something to share with the community!  Breakfast is $18.50, with all profits being donated to the farmer market voucher program.

Donate Directly:  If you can’t make one of the breakfasts but still want to participate, you can stop by to make a donation or visit our “Deposit a Gift” online donation platform.  http://farmtopatientprogram.mydagsite.com

So, whether you metaphorically need a fish, are learning to fish, are teaching someone to fish, or are building the pool from which to fish, my hope is that we can all work together towards a healthy planet and all its inhabitants—starting right here, where it matters.  See you down on the farm sometime.