In a state where so often our firsts are not feats to be applauded but failures to be avoided…(i.e., first, or highest, in the nation in the rate of obesity) it’s nice to learn that there is a very positive first, that is offering a better shot at good nutrition and healthy lives for Mississippians who have previously not had access to fresh, locally grown foods. For the second year, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan is partnering with the Alcorn State University Extension Program, to provide fresh fruits and vegetables, grown at Alcorn’s extension service location in Mound Bayou, to plan members and other eligible families. The program, dubbed Farm to Fork offers free produce to members of Medicaid’s Mississippi Coordinated Access Network (MCAN) and the Mississippi Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for children under the age of 19 whose families meet specific income guidelines and are not eligible for Medicaid. This is the first program of its kind that UnitedHealthcare has instituted, and could someday serve as a model for similar programs around the country.
According to Jocelyn Chisholm Carter, Plan President of UnitedHealthcare’s Mississippi health plan, the Farm to Fork program was conceived to help mitigate health disparities, and counter the trend of obesity in the state, by putting fresh, nutritious produce directly into the hands of families.
“We want to promote a healthier lifestyle and a more nutritious diet for our members and Mississippians as a whole, explains Ms. Carter. “The Farm to Fork program is part of an overall effort to bring that message to our members, along with input from our primary care providers, who can incorporate the emphasis on better nutrition into conversations with their patients at regular check-ups. Our goal is to see improved outcomes and a reduction in ER visits. We also hope having access to fresh, healthy foods will inspire participants to make other positive lifestyle changes, such as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and stopping smoking.”
It is hard to imagine that in a state with some of the most fertile soil in the world, there could be pockets of “food deserts” where residents do not have easy access to grocery stores or farmers markets where they can buy fresh vegetables and fruits, but unfortunately, that is the case in many parts of Mississippi. The Farm to Fork program helps to meet that need.
Beginning Wednesday, the 1st of May, and every Wednesday until the end of September, seasonal produce will be available at Farm to Fork distribution points in the Jackson area and the Delta, with Saturday distribution in Jackson, Canton, Hattiesburg, Vicksburg and Meridian. Each eligible family will receive a grocery bag filled with a variety of seasonal produce, along with some educational information about healthy cooking methods, and even a recipe of the week. Community residents and others not enrolled in MSCAN or CHIP with UnitedHealthcare can receive a bag of produce for $5, once all plan members have been served. The produce that will be available at the program’s distribution centers ranges from turnip, mustard and collard greens, as well as lettuce and cabbage initially, to tomatoes, peas, butter beans, cantaloupes and kale in the summer and fall, all locally grown and delivered fresh.
“We are excited about entering our second year of the Farm to Fork program, adds Ms. Carter. “Building on last year’s success we are offering even more distribution locations this year and we believe and have high hopes that the program can eventually serve every part of the state.”
Anyone who is interested in learning if they are eligible to participate in the Farm to Fork program should contact the Director of Medicaid at 800-421-2408.
2013 Farm to Fork food distribution will take place May – September at the following locations:
• Jackson Jackson Medical Mall – 350 Woodrow Wilson Ave. 1st Wednesday: 5/1; 6/5; 7/3; 8/7; 9/4
• Belzoni Belzoni Neighborhood Facility – 501 Hayden St. 2nd Wednesday: 5/8; 6/12; 7/10; 8/14; 9/11
• Mound Bayou Delta Health Center – 702 Martin Luther King Dr. 3rd Wednesday: 5/15; 6/19; 7/17; 8/21; 9/18
• Clarksdale SLA Jones Activity Center – 500 Indiana Ave. 4thWednesday: 5/22; 6/26; 7/24; 8/28; 9/25
Super Saturday locations and dates:
• Jackson Saturday, May 4
• Canton Saturday, June 1
• Hattiesburg Saturday, July 6
• Vicksburg Saturday, August 3
• Meridian Saturday, September 7
For more information about distribution times and locations call 601-718-6546 or visit www.uhccommunityplan.com/home/ms/cfbo.
Jocelyn Chisholm Carter is the Plan President for United Healthcare’s Mississippi health plan. Carter is responsible for leading the health plan to deliver quality-based health programs that meet the unique needs of the Medicaid beneficiaries and members in other government-sponsored healthcare programs for more than 68,000 members.
Carter received her Bachelor of Science in 1989 from Georgia Southern University and graduated Cum Laude with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1995. Carter also received accreditation from the Wharton School of Business in conjunction with the UnitedHealth Group Executive Development Program.