Fresh Access success story

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Photo courtesy of Wheeler

A community health worker distributes vegetables to patients at the Waterbury Family Health and Wellness Center in 2020.

Six years ago, the Friends of Holcomb Farm (FOHF) Fresh Access program that provides produce grown at the farm to people in need, set a goal to increase its impact. We focused on serving Granby, first—through the Senior Center, Social Services, and the Waste Not Want Not Community Kitchen.

With the support of the Granby Community Fund, First Congregational Church, those who attend our annual harvest dinner at Metro Bis each year, and donations from many generous individuals, we now contribute more than 6,000 pounds of produce locally each year. With new sources of grant support, we have been expanding our reach beyond Granby, and we would like to share with you just one success story.

A truckload of Holcomb Farm produce heads toward Wheeler’s Family Health and Wellness Centers, for distribution to Wheeler patients.

Wheeler and Holcomb Farm: Helping People Improve Their Own Lives

At the fall 2017 Harvest Dinner, FOHF board member Mark Fiorentino was approached by one of our CSA members, Susan Walkama, who at the time was also the president and CEO of Wheeler, a statewide provider of integrated primary care and behavioral health. “Was there any opportunity for Wheeler to become one of Fresh Access’s partners?” she asked. 

Wheeler was about to open its flagship community health center, the Family Health and Wellness Center, in Hartford. This new center was to be a key evolution in Wheeler’s 50-year history of delivering on its mission: providing equitable access to innovative care that improves health, recovery and growth at all stages of life. Building on this foundation, the community health center provided medical and dental care, behavioral health care, an on-site pharmacy and a full range of alternative and complementary medicine such as yoga, chiropractic care, acupuncture, exercise, and mindfulness. No wellness program would be complete, of course, without good nutrition, and that’s where Fresh Access fit in. 

The partnership started small, with FOHF delivering 2,000 pounds—with an approximate retail value of $5,600—to Wheeler’s Hartford location in the summer of 2018. The program was an immediate success.

Wheeler’s nutritionist worked with patients to help them choose and prepare fresh, healthy food. Many of Wheeler’s patients are at or below federal poverty levels and often live in “food deserts,” where they would otherwise have no access to fresh produce. As a piece of the larger wellness initiative, Wheeler’s new efforts drew attention. In the summer of 2019, Fresh Access doubled its contribution of food to Wheeler’s constituents.

In 2019, Walkama’s retirement was honored with a Wheeler fundraising campaign specifically for nutritional programming, raising more than $63,000. This supported Wheeler’s expansion of the Family Health and Wellness Center nutrition programming to additional sites, including Waterbury, Bristol and New Britain. A centerpiece of this expansion was a matching gift of $12,000 from Wheeler to FOHF, to allow for the doubling of Fresh Access produce yet again in 2020. “Many of our patients do not have access to affordable fresh produce near where they live, and regularly consume food high in carbs and low in protein, fiber and vitamins, which often results in high rates of obesity and related diseases such as diabetes and hypertension,” said Sabrina Trocchi, PhD, MPA, president and CEO, Wheeler. “This expanded agreement [with Fresh Access], part of a broader nutrition program at Wheeler, now serves patients at our four community health center locations and for a longer period of time, from June through November, helping to meet basic needs, while introducing individuals and families to positive food choices.” Statewide, Wheeler now serves more than 50,000 people a year.

We aren’t done yet. Our plans for 2021 include increasing the amount of food provided to Wheeler to approximately 16,000 pounds, with an estimated retail value of almost $45,000, and the addition of Wheeler’s Plainville site. The Friends have just received notice of an additional grant to support this expansion that includes growing more food, growing and storing it for a longer portion of the year, adding fruit from local growers, and delivering it to the Wheeler sites, where the people who need it most can directly benefit.

Next, together with Wheeler, the Friends are developing a vision for sustaining this partnership well into the future. When every dollar raised or granted is used by the nonprofit Holcomb Farm to grow local, chemical-free food and make it available to the people who need it most through the nonprofit, community-based resources of Wheeler, the value far exceeds the cost.

To learn more about Wheeler’s Family Health and Wellness Center programs, go to To learn more about the Friends of Holcomb Farm’s Fresh Access program, go to