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Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital to pilot new two-year program using hands-on experiences, food education

The Farm at St. Joe's will provide Farm Share produce boxes to Nutrition Buddies participants for 24 weeks.
The Farm at St. Joe's will provide Farm Share produce boxes to Nutrition Buddies participants for 24 weeks. (Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital/ The Farm at St. Joe's)

ANN ARBOR – Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital will soon begin piloting its new Nutrition Buddies program, a two-year program designed to teach teens about nutrition while providing them with farm-fresh produce and cooking classes. 

Over the course of the program, 80 participants aged 12 to 14 will learn about low-cost food and nutrition while participating in a Farm Share program, week-long summer camps and after school classes.

According to Alexandra Babcock, the Lifestyle & Culinary Medicine Coordinator at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, the program has two goals: Educating physicians and giving participants confidence and autonomy regarding food choices.

Intended for teenagers who may be facing food insecurity, the program targets lifestyle-related choices. 

“We know that in Michigan, 55% of residents in the state of Michigan have a chronic disease and so much of chronic disease is preventable and related to lifestyle,” said Babcock, who explained that lifestyle includes food choices, sleep and movement.

“How we want to approach combatting chronic disease is through these different avenues. We want to be able to teach people that food can be the medicine that can prevent and reverse chronic disease.”

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Babcock said that food insecurity has been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession so there is an even greater need to teach residents about eating nutritious food on a budget.

She added that the program will help teenagers to become more involved with decisions regarding the food they eat and where it comes from. 

During each year of the program, 40 participants will receive free, weekly Farm Share produce boxes from The Farm at St. Joe’s from July to December, participate in a week-long summer camp in August and participate in six weeks of after-school classes in Septemeber and October. 

The pilot program was made possible by a $410,000 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

Registration for the first round of participation is closed but a waitlist is available. Those interested in being put on the program waitlist can email NutritionBuddies@stjoeshealth.org.


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