New guide promoting local fresh fruit and vegetables is doing a lot of good

Dec 18, 2014

Connecting farm fresh produce with local families supports good health and a strong community. That's why the UC Cooperative Extension office in Santa Cruz County worked with health care professionals and farmers to create a pocket-sized guide for selecting and eating fresh, healthy local food.

“Santa Cruz County farmers provide an array of quality fresh fruits and vegetables that can help residents to be healthier,” said Laura Tourte, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and one of the project's coordinators. “Everybody wins.”

The 40-page booklet – titled Fresh • Starts • Here – was developed by UCCE, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) and the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. It assembles a wide variety of resources into a compact form, with information about the seasons for local fruits and vegetables, nutritional information and directions for choosing, storing and preparing healthy foods using some of Santa Cruz County's top crops. Six farmers are profiled in the booklet along with four medical doctors and a registered dietitian, who provide suggestions about accessing fresh fruits and vegetables and reasons for eating them.

“It's not often you'll find stories about farmers and doctors in the same place, but it's a natural fit,” Tourte said. “Doctors know the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and farmers grow them.”

Dr. Karen Harrington, a family medicine physician, shared a seasonal salad recipe that includes cabbage, kale, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, scallions and parsley.

“Making a salad that uses many different fruits and vegetables and keeps for several days is a great and convenient way to help improve your health,” she said.

Pediatrician Casey Schirmer is pictured in the guide with his cousin Joe Schirmer, owner of an organic farming operation in Santa Cruz.

“Your body is all about being balanced,” Dr. Schirmer says. “It wants not too much of anything in particular. Feed it a variety of fruits and vegetables and it will grow healthier and happier in all ways.”

The development committee, local farmers and physicians donated their time and effort to the project. UCCE funded the printing of the first 2,000 copies of the booklet. The guide was recently the focus of three outreach events at PAMF clinics, where farmers and PAMF staff teamed up to distribute the guide and other health information at no cost to PAMF patients, visitors and staff. A Spanish language version – which was funded with contributions from UCCE, PAMF and Lakeside Organic Gardens – is in press and expected to be available to the community later this month.

Tourte said the committee has received more requests for the guide than they can currently accommodate. They are now seeking funding to print additional copies, and planning to partner with others in the community to share the information.

“This guide, two years in the making, is our group's foundational piece. It is the beginning of many more activities and educational events we have planned for the future,” Tourte said.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist