The Lahey/New Entry Farmer’s Market Program (FMP) is a hospital-farm partnership that provides weekly free farmer’s markets in the towns of Arlington, Burlington, and Billerica in Middlesex county Massachusetts. The goals of the program are to increase access to locally-grown fruits and vegetables and reduce feelings of social isolation among older adults. To meet its goals, the FMP offers fresh fruits and vegetables and engages participants in program events. The past several months, I have taken an in-depth look at the FMP, using survey data and key informant interviews to evaluate the 2020 season and COVID-19 related changes, concluding by writing a case study and report based on the findings.
The farmer’s markets were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020 season. As a result, many of the normal operations were revised to ensure the safety of the participants such as pre-bagging produce, drive-by pickup or home delivery, and remote offerings of social programs. After the 2020 season, despite COVID19-related changes, participants remained satisfied with the program The addition of home delivery and remote social opportunities had the benefit of increased engagement among the older adults. The program was successful at improving several indicators of the older adult’s diets such as increased access, consumption, and variety of fruits and vegetables. Overall, 50% of participants across all three sites indicated that the program has lessened their feelings of isolation, while older adults who live alone were particularly impacted as 60% indicated reduced isolation since starting the program. Staff within the partnership actively listen to and implement feedback from the community, ensuring the program is dedicated to serving the needs of those vulnerable. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, participants affirmed their satisfaction with the program with nearly 90% indicating that they will continue the program in the future. Programs such as the Lahey/New Entry Farmer’s Market successfully increase fresh produce access for older adult populations while offering social engagement in community programs, allowing for improvements in both the physical and mental health of participants