Located in the midst of rolling farm country, Hershey, Pa., lacked for farmers markets—or so Daniel George, assistant professor at Penn State College of Medicine's Hershey campus, found when he asked around.
So he proposed one for the middle of the college campus, and leadership got behind the concept, though they asked to locate it on the edge of campus because of traffic concerns. The Hershey Trust donated land for $1, and the market launched in 2010. Since then, sales have totaled $500,000, but the value has been much greater to the surrounding community—which has earned Penn State Hershey Medical Center the 2012 Spirit of Excellence Award for Community.
“It was really a no-brainer,” says George, who modeled the market after a similar initiative at the Cleveland Clinic. “We have a wide array of local products, 80% producer-only or organic. People value the fact that they're supporting local producers and helping the economy.”
A key component of the market is the health education added by community outreach coordinator Judy Dillon and her staff. They include basic health screenings for concerns such as cholesterol and blood pressure, information about nutrition and space for vendors such as massage therapists to set up.
Staff and students have volunteered their time as part of the effort, Dillon says. The market drew 146 medical center volunteers in 2010 and 2011 who spent more than 550 volunteer hours a season at the market. They provided 695 health screenings and talked to 636 market customers about preventive-health topics.
“It's been an incredible amount of energy, excitement and enthusiasm,” she says.
The market has attracted regular customers, Dillon says. Even some vendors who are “normally distrustful of Western medicine,” such as Amish and Mennonites, have built relationships with volunteers and asked questions about their own families' health and nutrition, George says. This has given students their first opportunity, in many cases, to work one-on-one as providers.
Farmers and students have worked together to distribute produce to the underserved, with help from a grant that enables the medical center to buy about $75 per week of produce for that purpose, George says.
The ability of the market to reach community members who don't ordinarily see a health provider without lecturing them impressed Community category judge Amy Hoey. “That was something that resonated, the subtlety of the program,” she says. “They're taking something that's specifically healthcare focused and making it attractive to a broader population.”