NEW BRITAIN – Fresh eggplants and sun-ripened tomatoes greeted patients who walked through the doors of the Wheeler Family Health Center Wednesday afternoon.
Usually, Community Health Worker Luis Perez sets up Wheeler’s Farm to Family produce area outside the facility at 40 Hart St. It was too hot for that this week.
So he stood in the lobby, behind large yellow crates of locally-grown food from Holcomb Farm in West Granby.
“I enjoy when I can help a client with their basic needs,” Perez said.
Wheeler’s Farm to Family program serves clients across Central Connecticut, at Family Health Centers in New Britain, Bristol, Plainville, Waterbury and Hartford.
An initiative made possible by the agency’s partnership with Holcomb Farm, fresh produce is available for free to Wheeler clients on Wednesdays June-Nov. from 1 to 4 p.m.
The program represents just one facet of Holcomb Farm’s Fresh Access program, which provides over $25,000 worth of produce to more than 3,500 people on a yearly basis. That includes seniors and families who struggle to afford healthy food and individuals in health crises.
Wheeler’s New Britain clinic opened in June, serving kids and adults. Services offered include primary care, full family dental, behavioral health, addiction treatment, crisis intervention and much more.
“A lot of our patients don’t have access to fresh produce and they can’t afford it either,” Site Director Lisa Roth said. “There are so many social disparities right now, especially during the pandemic. Our doors are open for anything they might need.”
An on-staff nutritionist helps clients make the right diet choices for their own personal wellness. This service is especially important to people who suffer from chronic diseases and those in recovery.
“We have a patient-centered approach here, where we treat the whole person,” Roth said.
The Farm to Family offering has created a positive culture all its own. Patients often trade recipes with staff and share how they turned out from week to week.
“It’s really nice to have that connection with patients and families,” Roth said.
Eggplant, tomatoes, celery and squash of all shapes and sizes were available this week. The yearly growing season, however, features dozens of different veggie and fruits depending on the month.
“They all go out the door pretty quickly,” Perez said. “We don’t usually have leftovers.”
The farm’s produce is pesticide-free and freshly-picked - both guarantees big grocery stores can’t make.
“The organic section of the grocery store is very expensive and you don’t know how fresh things are,” Roth said.
Wheeler clients are like family, she added.
For example, people who don’t drive are provided free transportation to medical appointments, and multilingual services are available to people who don’t speak English. While appointments are always encouraged, walk-ins are welcome as well.
For Perez, facilitating the Farm to Family effort every Wednesday is about bringing a little bit of joy to someone’s day.
“Seeing that smile on their face,” he said, “that’s one reason I love working here.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.