On June 27th eight individuals took a trip to the Hilltowns to learn about the health related work happening out of Hilltown CDC and in the surrounding communities. This was the second time the Health Equity Committee took a trip to learn hands-on about important work going on throughout the state. This trip was largely coordinated in collaboration with Joan Griswold who is Hilltown CDC’s Rural Public Health Project Manager – big thank you to Joan!
We began the day by meeting up for a weekly walk in Cummington. This walk used one of Hilltown CDC’s walkability maps that they designed with funding from DPH’s Community Health Fund. Hilltown CDC came up with 9 maps for walks around the Hilltowns and used the creation of these maps as a jumping off point for advocacy regarding creating more walkable areas (e.g., installing crosswalks). This advocacy is being funded by MassDOT’s Complete Streets program. This walk was open to the community but aimed at elderly Hilltown residents. While safe, much of the walk was in areas without sidewalks, making clear the need for such maps. If you’re interested, you can check out the walking map here. The walking maps project was funded via a grant from HRIA (Health Resources in Action) and it has allowed engagement with partners including, Healthy Hampshire, Walk Boston and MADOT to increase the safety for all modes in the Hilltowns. A small grant from American Walks has allowed us to walk in a couple of different Hilltowns who have created the maps. Hilltown CDC held these events to encourage anyone from the town, not just elders, to come out and walk!
We then met up at Hilltown CDC in Chesterfield where we chatted a bit about their work. Dave spoke about the ways in which the Hilltown CDC has been supporting small businesses. Here is an example of one of their recent projects.
Next, we took off for Sawyer farm in nearby Worthington MA where Hilltown CDC supports a Mobile Market where we met Hunt, Director of Community Programs and Hannah the farm manager, and Lincoln, the farm owner. This farm was very rural – think no cell phone service, let alone Broadband access. We learned that the majority of Mobile Market participants are SNAP recipients and that the Mobile Market is the only establishment within about a 30-mile radius that accepts SNAP benefits. The market also has the option for customers who can afford to supplement others’ groceries to “pay it forward” as part of their transaction. Hunt said this was a popular option and allowed the community to support one another. We learned that while much of the produce comes from the farm itself, they also source from other local farms, providing an important source of income for those farms. This week they will be kicking off a home delivery service which they emphasized is unique and not to be taken for granted in the Hilltowns. The home delivery service also allows for increased efficiency because the market workers can pick up produce from local farms while making deliveries. This is important because many of the local farms are small, meaning that otherwise picking up or dropping off small amounts of produce would not be efficient for either the market workers nor the farmers. They told us that 85-90% of the profits go directly to the farmers – which is significantly higher than other models.
Still on the farm, we next trekked up to the clover fields. The clover was being used as a cover crop for different vegetables. In addition to growing vegetables, the farm is engaged in doing trials around sustainable agricultural practices. While Lincoln explained that they have been experimenting with sustainable agriculture at Sawyer for a long time, they are now partnering with other farms to investigate what this could look like for different crops, in different regions, etc. in order to scale up this work. In order to do this work, they are partnering with various universities and an organic farming organization. Lincon showed us how they had different experimental and control patches of crops to better understand the best and most sustainable technology.
As we were leaving the farm, we learned that the next visitor coming up after us was State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa who represents part of Hampshire County. She had been invited to take a farm tour to better understand and communicate the importance of maintaining state earmarks for sustainable agriculture projects, like the one we were visiting.
After enjoying lunch together, participants went their separate ways, agreeing that we were able to learn so much hands-on that we could not have learned on Zoom!
Is there exciting health-related work going on in your community? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like us to consider a health equity field trip to your area!