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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Farmers’ Market in Hershey: Creating Community Wellness

Mar 02, 2012 12:03PM ● By Beth Davis

L to R: Pam Faux Campbell, Wade Edris, Kathy Graham, Danny George, Kathy White

When Danny George, Ph.D., joined the Penn State College of Medicine as a faculty member in October 2009, he immediately saw the potential for a farmers’ market in the region—with its rich agricultural heritage and a medical center nestled among the acres of farmland. After a serendipitous conversation with Wade Edris, a scientist in a College of Medicine research lab who had grown up on a local farm, the two realized they shared a conviction that the mission of academic medical centers is not merely to treat disease, but also to promote health and sustainability in local communities. Thus was the idea of establishing a farmers’ market near the Penn State Hershey Medical Center born.

“We had a vision of how a farmers’ market could serve community wellness and sustainability in a variety of ways—from supporting local farmers engaged in sustainable practices to increasing community accessibility to healthy, locally grown foods,” explains George.

The two began sharing their vision with medical center and college leadership, as well as the surrounding community. In June 2010, their vision became a reality when the Farmers’ Market in Hershey (FMIH) came into existence on the west campus of Penn State Medical Center—on farmland left to the Hershey Trust by Milton S. Hershey, whose cows once grazed in the fields.

The FMIH is open seasonally every Thursday from May to October. There, customers can peruse a wide selection of locally produced fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meats and baked goods and other specialty items such as herbs and spices, canned/preserved goods, flowers, cider, wine and honey. According to George, the market’s vendors represent eight surrounding counties, and at least 80 percent of the products are organic, naturally produced and/or vendor-produced, and originate within a 30-mile radius of the market. The remaining 20 percent extends market variety further to include soaps, crafts, jewelry and other non-food items.

While providing access to fresh, local foods is enough to make most people happy, the FMIH doesn’t stop there: it’s only the beginning. The FMIH is not a typical farmers’ market. Just as the original vision suggests, the FMIH aims to make a significant contribution to the long-term health of the region, by providing free services and educational opportunities about nutrition, wellness and prevention to the community. Therefore, each week, the market features innovative wellness programming in the form of cooking classes, free health screenings, integrative health education and musical acts from the community.

“What differentiates us from other markets is our proximity to experts in the areas of medicine, nursing, public health, nutrition and mental health,” notes George. “This allows us to serve as a credible community venue for the promotion of preventive health.”

Medical center volunteers, most commonly medical and nursing students looking to gain experience with “patients,” provide health screenings that cover blood pressure, vision, skin cancer and osteoporosis, discussions about blood sugar and cholesterol levels, exercise activity and more to shoppers at the market. George says it benefits not only the shoppers, but also the students that are able to hone their skills and have real, health-related conversations with customers.

If a customer is identified as high risk, volunteers can help them do something about it. “Students can actually provide dietary advice that can be acted on right there at the market, by pointing customers toward specific stands—for instance, the ones with organic produce—and talking about small tweaks to one’s diet that can make a big difference,” notes George. “It is less intimidating to customers than the clinical setting.”

Volunteers also present health education focus topics—including stroke risk awareness, diabetes education, nutrition and activity promotion for children, gardening advice, bike safety, sun exposure safety, flu season preparation, sleeping advice, medication safety, adolescent health, breast cancer awareness and head injury prevention.

George says that because the FMIH is a platform for education, it is also important to let people know about alternative methods of treating illness. “We want to demystify the idea of integrative medicine by bringing in non-medical specialists in the community that share our vision of furthering wellness in the region.”

Last year, community booths hosted free workshops on holistic health, Reiki massage demonstrations, yoga and Tai chi workshops, acupuncture information, aromatherapy and a variety of other integrative medicine approaches, as well as informational offerings from local fitness centers, health coaches, businesses and environmental action groups.

After two successful seasons, George says the FMIH intends to continue growing its customer base and expanding its community wellness programming. “We would love to see a teaching garden for kids at the market and continue building partnerships to increase participation of the community, including underserved individuals and families.”

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