Feeding Cape Codders one garden at a time
An agricultural fair, a children’s garden, farmers in the school, a coalition of farmers markets, historic harvest gardens and a collaboration called FLAVORx to study how a prescription of fresh fruits and vegetables can battle chronic conditions ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes.
Welcome to Sustainable CAPE.
Francie Randolph never imagined that a decision to move with her husband from Cambridge to Truro would evolve into a movement connecting the food we eat with the future of Cape Cod.
“Sustainable CAPE’s mission is to celebrate local food while teaching about the health of our bodies, community, and environment,” explained Randolph, who is a Harvard educated visual artist who has taught at her alma mater.
“We demonstrate the direct link between local food, sustainable health and wellness, and the importance of preserving the fragile land and water resources that directly enable our local harvest.”
When the Randolph’s purchased their 200-year-old farmhouse, they traded dinner parties in Cambridge for gardens, growing dozens of vegetables and fruits. Goats and sheep grazed their property, along with hens, ducks and a rooster.
Soon, they were bartering their produce with other local gardeners, meeting and developing a community of like-minded Cape Codders.
“When we moved to the Cape, we became so much more aware of the food we were putting into our bodies. When I became pregnant, it was so clear to me the relationship between what I was eating and the health of my child,” said Randolph.
The seeds for Sustainable Cape were sown in 2009 when Truro celebrated its 300th birthday. “Truro once was a community of farmers. Let’s come full circle,” she remembers thinking. Through school, Randolph had met many parents just as avid about their gardens and their town’s agricultural legacy.
Together with two actual farmers who own Out There Organics and Dave’s Greens, and guidance from the state Department of Agricultural Resources, the group brainstormed to develop an agricultural fair that over ensuing years has grown so popular that more than 8,000 people were attending in a town with a fulltime population of only 2,000.
“We made news with the longest cucumber contest, rutabaga bowling and a barnyard beauty contest,” Randolph said with a laugh.
A former undersecretary of agriculture in the Bill Clinton Administration, Gus Shumacher, who owned a home in Orleans and is a Wholesome Wave Founding Board Chair – a nationwide nonprofit serving underserved, low-income populations to make healthier food choices – joined the initiative, bringing along his own brainchild, a Zuccini 500. Contestants carved cars from zucchinis and raced them on a 24-foot race track Schumacher constructed himself.
Today, Schumacher is on the board of Sustainable CAPE. And Wholesome Wave’s initiative in nearly 40 states to prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income families is the inspiration behind a current pilot medical study, FLAVORx, designed by Dr. Kumara Sidhartha of Emerald Physicians and Cape Cod Healthcare.
The study, which was completed recently, researched how a regimen of fresh fruits and vegetables purchased at the Orleans Famers Market, along with nutrition and cooking education, will reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body weight and waist circumference over a 12-week period.
From its first initiative in 2009, Sustainable Cape has developed collaborations not only throughout Truro, but also across the Cape and Massachusetts. Former state Senator Dan Wolf joined the nonprofit’s board of directors.
“One of our most ‘sustaining’ endeavors has been creation of children’s gardens,” said Randolph. “At Truro Elementary, parents and teachers watched with wonder as these young students literally fell in love with the vegetables and fruit they grew. They couldn’t wait to bring them home to their parents and eat them for dinner.”
The first garden grew not only enough food to supply the school lunch program, but also to pack goodie bags that the children brought home.
“They were introducing their parents to kale,” she said. “The children are learning sustainable, healthy practices for their bodies as well as their environment: the soil, aquifer, bay, ocean and ozone.”
In the winter, children move from the garden to Randolph’s love of art. They paint and sculpt, inspired by the fruits and vegetables they grew during the summer and harvested in the fall.
Each February the Truro Public Library hosts an annual exhibition of the children’s artwork based on the Children’s Community Garden. Selections from the exhibit then travel to the Barnstable County Fair and to the Truro Agricultural Fair. Each year the children’s artwork is seen by an estimated 15,000–20,000 people.
Sustainable CAPE’s initiatives now reach beyond Truro and across all the towns that are part of the Nauset School District, from Provincetown to Brewster, said Randolph.
Programs underway or in development include:
- Connecting more gardeners to the schools to provide farm fresh produce for lunch programs.
- Introducing students to local harvesters by financing school field trips
- Funding a professional farmer to work in the schools at no cost to them or the town
- Initiating Restaurant Supported Agriculture so food wholesalers can purchase produce from local farmers
- Exploring development of a health and wellness curriculum for local schools
- Developing a model for other schools to create their own children’s gardens
- Investigating ways to connect the gardens to the MCAS curriculum
A private foundation recently was contracted by Sustainable CAPE to conduct an assessment of farm-to-school efforts throughout each school on the Cape, said Randolph.
At the same time, Sustainable CAPE works to promote farms and farmers markets.
One example ties the school program with the Truro farmer’s market.
“We give every child who has completed a season’s work – growing food for snacks and the school lunch through our Farmer-in-the-School Program – an award: a voucher good for $10 worth of free fresh food at the Truro Educational Farmers Market,” explained Randolph.
In turn, “we advertise on the back of the voucher another program that doubles benefits under the SNAP program (supplemental nutritional assistance) up to $10 for fresh food purchases, directly reaching families through their children,” she added.
While many towns on the Cape have farmer’s markets, the reality is that they attract mainly higher-income customers and second homeowners, observed Randolph. ‘Our programs are designed to connect lower-income Cape Codders to the same opportunities.”
That’s what attracted Randolph instantly to Dr. Sidhartha’s FLAVORx study.
Programs like WIC, SNAP and food stamps long have supported low-income families, but they cannot alone improve access to farm fresh produce, as well as education, she explained. That takes a concerted effort by the local healthcare system, individual physicians, schools, farmers and farmers markets.
“When Dr. Sidhartha and I met, we instantly realized we need to get together to develop the FLAVORx project. Sustainable CAPE is committed to bringing low-cost, fresh produce to underserved Cape Codders, and Emerald Physicians and Cape Cod Healthcare are interested in proving that this effort truly improves people’s health,” said Randolph.
It’s a collaboration between the primary care practice, Emerald Physician Services, under the medical leadership of Dr. Sidhartha and Sustainable CAPE, a local farmers’ market champion directed by its founder Francie Randolph, as well as strong support from Cape Cod Healthcare under the leadership of CEO Mike Lauf.
“In so doing, they can show how what you eat will cut the cost of more expensive medical treatment and hospitalizations, and in turn, hopefully get insurance companies to help fund programs like ours,” Randolph said.
“Imagine a farmer’s market taking the place of a pill to cut your cholesterol.”