UAB Employee Wellness brings fresh, local produce to workers

The corn is golden yellow, the tomatoes bright red and the peaches ready to eat. But the question the gentleman has for Ellen Riley is how he will know when his cantaloupe is ready to eat.

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The Farm Stand project is a joint partnership between UAB Employee Wellness and the UAB Hospital Food and Nutrition Services Department. Fresh fruits and vegetables will easily accessible for employees, students, patients and passers-by all summer long.

“Keep it in this bag overnight and open it up tomorrow,” she says. “If you can smell it when you open the bag, it’s good to go.”

Riley is selling fresh, local produce — and giving a few key tips along the way — five days a week at various locations on campus into the fall as part of the new UAB Wellness Program’s Farm Stand initiative. The goal of the Farm Stand is to give employees and students opportunities to make healthy food choices every day, says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., UAB Wellness coordinator.

“Our employees really are our greatest asset, and they are so committed to UAB,” Whitt says. “Many of our faculty and staff work long or odd hours, and some drive more than 30 miles to and from work. These obstacles may make it difficult to find time to shop for healthy foods for themselves and their family. The Farm Stand will make fresh fruits and vegetables easily accessible for employees, students, patients and passers-by all summer long.”

The Farm Stand project was initiated by UAB President Carol Garrison and brought to fruition through a joint partnership between UAB Employee Wellness and the UAB Hospital Food and Nutrition Services Department.

The groups teamed up with Riley, who is the owner and operator of the mobile mini farmer’s market. Riley takes her Farm Stand to five different locations throughout the workweek:

  • Monday: North Pavilion, second floor, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday: The Kirklin Clinic, second floor, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday: Administration Building, first floor, 8:30 a.m. to noon
  • Wednesday: UAB Highlands, first floor atrium, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Thursday: Lister Hill Library, second floor, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Thursday: Medical Towers, first floor lobby, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Friday: West Pavilion, first floor atrium, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

 

What can you expect to find at the Farm Stand? Options change daily, and Riley updates each day’s menu every morning on the Farm Stand Facebook page.

Among items she has carried recently are green and sweet onions, corn, cantaloupe, green beans, new potatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, squash, tomatoes, blueberries, snap beans, okra, turnip greens and Chilton County peaches.

“I buy fresh every morning,” Riley says. “On a good day, I’ve got lots of different things. I always try to carry some of the basics — tomatoes, corn, shelled peas. I try to buy as much local as I can get my hands on. I really want it to be as fresh and nutritious as possible — and pretty.

“When it’s pretty, people will eat fresh food.”

Other items that will be offered include peppers, bananas, blackberries, lady peas, pink eye peas, butterbeans, local honey, jams, jellies and more.

Riley developed the idea of the mobile Farm Stand during the past year.

A study conducted by Main Street Birmingham in 2010 revealed several food deserts in the city — areas where there is no access to fresh food. “People have access to fast food, but not good food,” Riley says. Birmingham’s Southside — and UAB — fell into one of those desert categories in the study.

Riley also has befriended several nurses through frequent visits to The Kirklin Clinic. She has seen how hard they work and heard how difficult it can sometimes be for them to find time to shop for healthy foods.

“I hear from them how at the end of the day they sometimes can be too tired to stop at the store,” Riley says. “So, my thought was here is an enormous population. If we bring fresh, good food to them, hopefully we could combat some of the consumption of fast food. We could combat some of that food desert issue and make it more convenient for people.”

The Farm Stand began operating in late April and has satisfied many customers, including Tonja Wimbley, payroll coordinator in Payroll Services.

“It has definitely helped me,” Wimbley says. “I actually had surgery a few weeks ago, and I have not been able to go and buy my produce. Plus, we work four 10-hour days, so even on a normal day this is so much more convenient.”

Wimbley also says The Farm Stand offers more than expediency: It offers quality.

“The food is so much fresher than at the grocery store,” Wimbley says. “Usually when you go to the grocery store, by the time you’ve picked from the top, everything is either watered or iced down and it’s almost spoiled. The convenience and freshness of the Farm Stand can’t be beat. I think everyone in our department has been down there today.”

The Farm Stand accepts cash, checks and credit and debit cards. The UAB Employee Wellness Program also offers recipes and healthy tips for preparing and cooking the season’s freshest produce online at www.uab.edu/wellness. An updated listing of the Farm Stand’s available items is posted on this website each week.

In addition, a UAB student intern will provide health education throughout the summer as part of the Farm Stand caravan.

“We’ll be promoting programs and talking about specific health issues,” Whitt says. “It’s a great addition to the Farm Stand. We’re integrating services and opportunities for employees while also taking the next steps to train UAB students as the next generation of health professionals.”

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