As we begin to roll out the 2019 Healthy Roots Prescription CSA Shares, we reflect on the impact it had for folks in 2019. Fresh produce might not seem like life-changing material, but for Jami McDonald and her family some fruits and veggies led to large-scale change. In fact, the St. Albans resident credits access to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share with improving her family’s eating habits, health and wellness.

“It’s life-changing,” she said of the fresh produce she began receiving this past July. “It’s been huge for us.”

The access to a weekly bag bursting with fresh, local produce came at an incredibly opportune time for McDonald and her husband Wade. In the spring, the couple lost their home in a fire that they were lucky to escape with their lives. They woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of windows exploding.  Their fire alarms didn’t go off because the fire started on the outside of the house and engulfed the structure before the couple and their two-month-old daughter knew what was happening.

McDonald grabbed her daughter Mila like a football and ran down the stairs just as the roof caved in. She and her shell-shocked husband kicked the back door open to get outside … “Watching everything we ever worked for going up in flames,” she said.

After the fire, Dr. Jennifer Covino of Northwestern Pediatrics who is Mila’s pediatrician, connected the family with the free share of the CSA produce. The offering was part of an initiative of Healthy Roots, an NMC program that seeks to strengthen the local food system. Healthy Roots provided the free produce for pediatricians to give to patients – a pilot program that may expand for the future. The free produce couldn’t have come at a better time for the McDonalds, helping make life easier for the family as they struggled to figure out how to move forward.

“We wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to the grocery store and get the produce we needed,” said Jami. She noted that produce can be the most expensive thing on a grocery list – and having easy access allowed her to lose her “baby weight” and feel healthy during a very stressful time.

The share also spurred a change in her husband, who had high blood pressure. She said he always found vegetables to be disgusting, but he’s now regularly eating salad for dinner and seeing improvements in his blood pressure. “I never once thought it would happen,” she said of their salad dinners, jokingly asking him “Who ARE you?”

Simply put, the CSA made life easier. Each week, Jami picked up her share at the convenient downtown location of City Hall – any time between noon and 4 p.m. The pick-ups contained more than just fruits and veggies. They also included a cutting board, a knife, a recipe book, fresh herbs and free taste tests from the items in the week’s bag. The samples, recipes and wide variety of produce led to experimentation and excitement. She said she made an amazing pasta salad with arugula … even after her first though was “WHAT IS THAT? I can barely say it!”

Changing her family’s eating habits was important to Jami as she thinks about setting the stage for her daughter. “She’ll eat what we eat,” she said, relishing the fact that she and Wade are now modeling such healthy eating habits.

She is enthusiastic about the free CSA shares program and recommends others try enrolling their families. She’s even interested in sponsoring another family to receive a free share – she’d love to give back to the program. “We’ll do whatever we can to keep it going,” she said.