If Kirsten Cox is assigned one of those "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essays during her current senior year at New Haven's Common Ground High School, she's likely to get an A+. Thanks to the school's environmentally conscious curriculum, the 18-year-old resident of the Hill neighborhood was already sufficiently "green" when she applied for a summer job through Youth@Work, a public-private partnership that Yale-New Haven Hospital has helped fund for many years. Kirsten got a little greener, though, after she spent July working for CitySeed, another YNHH-supported organization, which operates farmers' markets throughout the city weekdays during the summer.
Besides offering Kirsten an ideal job opportunity, CitySeed brought locally grown vegetables, fruits and other fresh products to neighborhoods where access to healthy foods has been lacking.
In its 2012 Community Health Survey, CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement) polled Hill North residents about their habits related to diet, exercise and tobacco use. Fifty percent reported "food insecurity" — meaning that they or their family did not have enough food, or money to buy food, in the past 30 days. That figure was much higher than in all six New Haven neighborhoods surveyed and it was more than twice the national average. What's more, only 19% of Hill residents said they met the federal government's recommendation of five fruits and vegetables a day and nearly 50% reported not always being able to afford fresh fruits or vegetables.
Every Friday this past summer, in cooperation with CitySeed, Connecticut Mental Health Center and other organizations, YNHH helped sponsor the Hill North Farmers' Market at the corner of Park and South Streets. CitySeed is among dozens of nonprofit community organizations not affiliated with the hospital that received nearly $1.8 million in funds and in-kind services from YNHH during 2013, touching the lives of neighbors.
Along with bringing local growers and appreciative customers together at its outdoor markets, CitySeed educated visitors, which was one of Kirsten's duties. "My main role was as a cashier at the CitySeed table, where we sold bread, cookbooks and t-shirts," she said, "but I also did cooking demonstrations. I showed customers what they can do with produce purchased from the markets and how to incorporate that into meals at home."
A personal reward for her efforts with CitySeed was educating her fellow citizens. "Teaching people was the best part of the job," she admits. No wonder Kirsten, who will soon begin applying to colleges, wants to become a teacher.
The CitySeed farmers' markets are among many examples of how Yale-New Haven Hospital is investing various resources to create a healthier community.