April 14, 2022 — Sheltered from the drizzle beneath a gray canopy, tables and crates piled high with farm-fresh produce drew a steady stream of curious, smiling faces outside the UF Health Pediatrics – Gerold L. Schiebler CMS Center on the afternoon of March 23. With purple, orange and yellow carrots nestled next to red radishes and tomatoes, green onions, Brussels sprouts, spinach and more, the spread formed a veritable rainbow for hungry patients and caregivers.
The event kicked off a series of monthly farmers markets to come thanks to the efforts of third-year pediatrics resident Christina Baxter Vernace, D.O., and her partners at UF Health, UF/IFAS and The Family Garden.
A South Florida native, Vernace has been working to bring an affordable farmers market to the center for the past year and a half, she said, after learning of a similar program at one of the institutions she interviewed with before choosing UF for residency. The doctor decided to bring that model to Gainesville upon seeing that although she advised patients and families to purchase fruits and vegetables to help prevent or combat childhood obesity, they did not have easy access to fresh produce.
UF/IFAS helped connect Vernace with The Family Garden farm, which is set up with the State of Florida to accept SNAP and EBT payments for produce. Using food stamps also means customers are eligible for a 50% discount with the farm, Vernace said, making the produce affordable and accessible for patients at the already familiar site of their primary care provider.
The first market in March was a huge success, Vernace said. Families and employees alike had fun and purchased the fresh, organic, in-season produce, and she and a nutritionist were able to help educate shoppers on the importance of healthy eating.
“It was really incredible to see children walking through and selecting the vegetables they wanted to cook with their mom or dad that week,” Vernace said. “Having this farmers market was a way to have a reminder on campus, at the clinic patients go to, that this is what it looks like to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables. And this is also affordable; it’s not out of your budget. It’s not something unreachable.”