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Farm and Food Program helps families in need build connections through food

MEDFORD, Ore. — Among the century-old buildings at the Historic Hanley Farm, there’s new life growing. Young plants are growing in the vegetable garden and greenhouse, and new emotional connections are growing in young families.

The Family Nurturing Center, a child abuse and neglect prevention and intervention program serving high-risk families, uses the grounds as home base for its Farm & Food Program. Hanley Farm is owned and operated by Southern Oregon Historical Society, which allows the Family Nurturing Center to farm the grounds at a very low rate.

The Family Nurturing Center started the program in 2011, with a goal of serving families who were struggling with food security. The program has been steadily serving families, and in 2015, it grew thanks to a Health Innovation grant from Jackson Care Connect.

The funds were granted for a two-year period beginning in November 2015, and the grant has helped stabilize the program and expand its capacity to serve more families. Specifically, the funding provided salary support for staff members who run the groups at the farm, and facilitate partnerships with community agencies that offer addiction recovery, food assistance and housing services. Additionally, the Jackson Care Connect funding supported an Outreach and Intake Coordinator at the Family Nurturing Center, who provides home visitation and care coordination to families through the center.

The Farm and Food Program has two goals: first, to meet participants’ concrete needs by making sure they have access to healthy food and experience with how to prepare it; and second, to provide a framework and place where families can connect in a unique way.

The program includes weekly Moms and Dads groups, and each week the staff has a variety of activities for group participants to choose from, including tending to the plants, taking care of two flocks of chickens, and even providing mechanical help. In return, the moms and dads take home food from the farms to supplement their families’ diets. The groups meet year-round.

This group setting, in an environment that might not normally be associated with services, allows the group to build a community with each other, and build strengths in a peaceful setting. Farm Manager Dean Williamson says, “The farm tends to move at the speed of plants. That allows time, peace, change in perspective.”

After participants have taken part in the Moms or Dads group, they can bring their children out and be part of the Family Farm Group, which meets at Hanley Farm during the spring and summer months. Parents and children work together on the farm, building connections while the adults teach their children about how food grows. Family Nurturing Center staff members also say the nutritional benefit is significant, and cite national studies showing that children who grow plants are more likely to eat them.

The Farm & Food Program also added a new Parenting Group that serves over 40 families, on average. This group’s schedule and content changes seasonally, and Farm & Food Program Co-Manager Kristin Galabrun says “part of the success of the group is that participants are getting that social connection they are seeking.” Instead of having their struggles in common, she says, “they connect as parents.”

The unique setting can sometimes serve as an added route to necessary services. As parents grow comfortable in the group setting and build trust with the program managers, they get more comfortable inquiring about services their families need, including counseling.

The Outreach/Intake Coordinator works with new families to assess needs, and this additional staff has been able to increase the percentage of families who receive a six-month assessment to nearly 100% of families. As a result, the Family Nurturing Center has been able to provide increased services, including family mental health care, respite care, home visits and Parent/Baby Group.

Farm & Food Program Co-Manager Doug Lofdahl says the key to the success of the program is that it’s treatment that feels different than other programs: “If we all use all our strengths together, we can create a system that addresses social determinants of health in a way that feels good.”

For information about Jackson Care Connect, contact Jeanie Lunsford, 503-416-3626, lunsfordj@careoregon.org.

For information about this story, contact Sara King Cole, Communications Consultant, 541-601-9011, kingcoles@careoregon.org.





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