Program Finds Seniors Ripe for Healthy Fresh Food

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By Amanda Woods For some senior citizens on the Upper West Side, it may be difficult to take a trip to the Greenmarket and buy a few days' supply of fruits and vegetables. With this in mind, Council Member Gale Brewer launched "Grow Green, Age Well" to help connect the elderly to locally produced healthy food. "When they go grocery shopping, they often need some help," Brewer said The idea came about in 2010, when Brewer was developing a plan to make the neighborhood more friendly to seniors. In discussions with the New York Academy of Medicine, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Brewer outlined issues of concern to seniors in the neighborhood, and access to fresh fruits and vegetables was one of them. Brewer hoped to find a way to integrate healthy local food into menus at senior centers. "[We thought] maybe we could substitute some of the vegetables that were frozen with fresh fruits and vegetables," Brewer said. "We met with senior centers, and much to my surprise and pleasure, the [GrowNYC] Greenmarket said, 'Oh, we can do that.'" The program consists of four elements. The first, "Wholesale for Whole Meals," involves delivering food from GrowNYC's wholesale program to senior centers such as Project FIND's Hargrave Center and Goddard Riverside, food banks and Citymeals-on-Wheels. Cheryl Huber, assistant director of greenmarkets for GrowNYC, said that the organization is in the process of connecting its markets to senior center kitchens. "We know seniors are some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers, and they, more than anyone, need access to fresh food," Huber said. Local senior centers welcomed the new program. "We started, a while ago, thinking about the health and wellness of the seniors," said Barbara Blackman, section head of program services for Project FIND, which operates five senior centers in Manhattan. "It's a very good step in the right direction for our team. We're very happy with the wholesale market." Through another program within the initiative, "Greenhouse to Goddard," which begins July 19, high school students will harvest about 100 heads of lettuce at the Greenhouse Project Science Lab at P.S. 333 Manhattan School for Children and deliver it to the Goddard Riverside Senior Center, a short walk from the school. Stephan Russo, executive director of the Goddard Center, is looking forward to seeing the program kick off. "It's local, it's healthy, it's cost effective," Russo said. "We appreciate that Gale made the connection with the school's greenhouse to grow and harvest lettuce this summer that can be delivered to our senior center just five blocks away." Because many elderly live on a fixed income, "Grow Green, Age Well" will also introduce a West Side Senior Supported Agriculture Program, which will help those who cannot shell out enough money at once for an entire season of produce, as with a traditional community supported agriculture program. The program also includes the second annual Age-Friendly West Side Grocery Guide, which advises seniors on delivery options and senior discounts and where to look for fresh prepared foods in single portions. Brewer notes that "Grow Green" will not only aid local seniors but upstate farmers who grow the produce. "I'm very excited about it because it's local planning," Brewer said. "If it all works, it's a wonderful, amazing story."

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