The University of Kentucky (UK) is being honored for implementing a program that reduces UK employees’ cost of buying organic produce and encourages healthy eating. The school has just received an HR Innovation Award from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that provides participants with vouchers toward shares of weekly produce from a participating local organic farm of their choice.

While produce is distributed during the May-through-September season, UK dietitian Vanessa Oliver shares recipes and tips — everything from what to do with large quantities of common crops like spinach, to how to use less commonly known produce like green garlic.

Overcoming negative expectations

“Guiding people to be more confident in the kitchen is honestly one of the best parts of my job,” Oliver said. “When I hear someone has expectations they can’t cook with a certain vegetable or won’t like it, I love seeing their expression when they try a recipe that overcomes those expectations.” 

UK’s CSA voucher program began in 2016 as a research study in collaboration with the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Department of Agricultural Economics and had only 100 participants. Today, that number is up to 470.

“When Tim Woods, extension faculty with the Department of Agricultural Economics, approached me with this idea a few years back, it felt like a win-win,” said Jody Ensman, human resources manager of health and wellness. “Not only could we potentially improve health by increased consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, we could do this by supporting the local organic farming community too.”

More veggies, fewer health care costs

Participants increased their vegetable consumption by nearly two servings per day and averaged more than 0.5 fewer non-wellness/preventive visits per year to doctors’ offices or health clinics. Those who considered themselves in a lower health condition saw the largest improvements with statistically significant medical savings. Initial estimates show every dollar UK spent on the CSA benefit resulted in savings of $2.47 in medical expenditures.

“We also hear from employees an immense appreciation of our innovative CSA benefit,” said Kim Wilson, vice president and chief human resources officer. “It's because of our partnership with employees who choose to participate, researchers across campus and our five participating Central Kentucky farms, that UK is honored to receive this award for such a novel health and wellness benefit.”

In addition to the honor, UK will receive something tangible: a $5,000 contribution that it can use for it endowment or a scholarship fund.

To learn more about the school’s CSA, click here