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Office of Mental Health Receives Grant to Expand Access to Fresh Healthy Produce to People with Mental Illness

The NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH) has received a $200,000 award to help people with mental illness gain access to healthy, fresh produce. The grant, from the NYS Health Foundation, will be used to expand the FreshConnect Checks Program and bring mobile farmers’ markets to congregate housing sites for residents with serious mental illness. OMH will also develop a curriculum for residents focused on purchasing, preparing, and consuming healthy foods.

Greengrocer selling organic fresh produce at farmer market

OMH Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, “People with mental illness often have significantly shorter lifespans than the general population, in large part because of chronic diseases related to an unhealthy diet. This new pilot program will allow us to not only teach people with mental illness about purchasing and preparing fresh healthy foods, but it will also increase their access to farm-fresh foods. By partnering with local service providers and the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, we can make a significant difference in the lives of New Yorkers living with mental illness.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “We are proud of our FreshConnect Checks program, which helps ensure that New Yorkers have access to healthy, fresh produce while providing a boost to our farmers. By bringing farmers’ markets that accept FreshConnect Checks directly to congregate housing sites, and providing the necessary support services, we can now better serve our populations living with mental illness. I want to thank OMH for leading this important initiative.”

In New York State, 45,000 people with serious mental illness live in congregate homes. These individuals often face challenges in accessing and using fresh, healthy foods. By bringing mobile farmers’ markets to these congregate settings and engaging residents and residential staff to learn about purchasing, preparing, and consuming healthy foods, OMH will help them build these important skills.

And by expanding the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets’ successful mobile markets and FreshConnect Checks Program, residents will have the physical access and purchasing power necessary to enjoy healthy foods.

The partners for the first phase of this pilot program will be the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers (BFNC) and Rehabilitation Support Services (RSS) in the Capital District. BFNC and RSS operate community residences and supportive housing programs, both of which offer opportunities to support food access, as well as hands-on food education and preparation.

OMH will work with these agencies to develop a range of workshops including healthy meal planning, shopping for fresh produce at the mobile market, making healthy snack choices, and using healthier preparation techniques.

OMH will also develop a training module for housing agency staff, who are key to ensuring residents’ access to and consumption of healthy foods. Lessons learned from this pilot will inform future possible expansion of OMH’s mobile market program across New York State.

OMH plans to expand the pilot program to additional OMH-licensed housing sites in the future.

James Plastiras is the Director of Public Information for the New York State Office of Mental Health.

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