Farm to Families: Understanding the Impact of Subsidized Produce Boxes for Families in the Clinical Setting

Statement of Problem

The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened challenges for the nearly 1 in 4 children who were already food insecure in Philadelphia, and has created new barriers to food access for families who never previously struggled. From rising unemployment rates that disproportionately affect low-income families, to school closures that curtail access to lunch programs for the 30 million children they served each day, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of the systems that food insecure families depend on. As a result, food insecurity rates have reached staggering new heights and continue to rise: as of May 2020, more than 40% of mothers with children under age 12 reported household food insecurity since the pandemic began, compared to 15% in 2018.

Access to produce has proven to be particularly difficult for food insecure families, a population that has historically reported rates of fruit and vegetable consumption below the national average. Rising costs, low stock and strained budgets due to COVID-19 have pushed produce even farther down on the shopping list. Furthermore, due to factors including risk of contracting the virus and reduced availability of child care, families are prioritizing foods with a longer shelf life than fruits and vegetables to stretch groceries as far as possible. 

Description

To assess families’ food access needs and translate findings into programs that meet them, our team has focused in on one of the few places families are still going: the doctor’s office. In July 2020, we partnered with the St. Christopher’s Foundation for Children to launch Farm to Families, a cost-subsidized community-supported agriculture program (CSA) that operates weekly at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) Karabots and Cobbs Creek Pediatric Care Centers and Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care. Farm to Families provides families with a free box of organic fruits and vegetables, regardless of income and without an application. In addition to alleviating some of the immediate burden of food insecurity, the goals of Farm to Families include understanding the unprecedented food access challenges that families are facing in real-time, and evaluating whether clinical care sites are feasible and acceptable locations for a cost-subsidized CSA.

Before receiving a produce box, participants complete a brief demographic and food insecurity survey and can opt-in to a follow-up phone interview. During the interview, participants are asked to share their experience with Farm to Families as well as provide feedback on how a CSA program based in a health care setting could better meet their needs. The interview also assesses how the pandemic has affected caregivers’ ability to obtain enough food for their families, changes to benefits and how families engage with community resources during this time.

Next Steps

We are currently conducting the qualitative evaluation of the Farm to Families program, and exploring family-level experiences with food access and preferences for future programming. Our hope is that these findings will advance understanding of COVID-19’s impact on food insecurity among vulnerable populations and inform the long-term sustainability and impact of a cost-subsidized CSA at CHOP to provide healthy food for families.

This project page was lasted updated in September 2020.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Farm to Families: Understanding the Impact of Subsidized Produce Boxes for Families in the Clinical Setting [Online]. Available at: http://www.policylab.chop.edu. [Accessed: plug in date accessed here]. 

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