This a blog post from Anna Huffman, a UVM Dietetic Intern who spent a week working with the VT Fresh program.

As a UVM dietetics graduate student, I’ve spent the past six months interning at various clinical and community nutrition sites around the state. I chose to do my one-week exploratory rotation with the Vermont Foodbank because I’m passionate about increasing Vermonters’ access to and awareness of affordable options for eating healthy in their local communities.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to shadow a taste test provided by the Vermont Foodbank’s “VT Fresh” program at the St. Johnsbury community food shelf. The VT Fresh program “aims to increase access and improve availability of fruits and vegetables at community food shelves.” It uses several strategies in reach this goal, including improving the visibility and aesthetics of produce displays, expanding the variety and storage space for produce, utilizing signage, and providing taste tests of available produce.

VT Fresh worVT Fresh Taste testks with community food shelves across the state of Vermont to provide best practices and other information on how to implement these changes. Providers of the program also regularly visit these food shelves to deliver produce and provide the taste tests. The featured produce is displayed in an attractive manner to encourage participation and create a home-like atmosphere. Participants are asked to fill out a survey that asks if their preference for the promoted produce has changed after tasting the recipe. Recipe cards are also provided.

As I found out on Wednesday, the St. Johnsbury community food shelf has done an excellent job adopting the practices set forth by the VT Fresh program. The produce we brought from the Food Bank was immediately put on display by the volunteers right at the entryway to the food shelf. The produce display was surrounded by signage highlighting fun facts and vegetable-based humor, and information on serving sizes and creating a balanced meal. The display is attractive and inviting, and all produce offered is free to the public, not just food shelf participants.

The taste test was for a salad made of the lettuce we had brought, using a recipe for an easy to make mustard dressing. It was a slow day at the food shelf so we weren’t able to offer as many samples as we’d hoped, but those who tried it liked it, and were surprised at how good the salad was, remarking, “Wow! That’s actually really good!” and, “The dressing is really good. What kind is it again?” Many of those who tried the salad took the salad dressing recipe home with them.

The VT Fresh program is one of many programs the VT Foodbank offers to increase the accessibility and availability of fruits and vegetables for populations in need. By utilizing behavioral theory, the VT Fresh program decreases food insecurity, and enhances the nutrition of populations served. And the result is a positive impact for the food environment and personal food preferences in Vermont.