VHA Community Partnership Challenge - National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

Community Partnership Spotlight: Master Gardening program helps Veterans access food security in the Ozarks

This is the first in a series of articles about how various VA and VHA offices, initiatives, and programs support social the determinants of health—the theme of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge. This article features a 2020 submission from the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks about how partnerships there are addressing food security in Arkansas.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides comprehensive health services to America’s Veterans, and VHA knows it cannot provide every service to every Veteran on its own. Partnerships between VHA and nongovernmental organizations result in broader services and more options for Veterans.

The VHA Community Partnership Challenge (CPC) is an annual contest that recognizes local and national partnerships serving Veterans. By spreading the word about successful partnerships and encouraging their replication across VHA, the CPC is inspiring more VHA staff members to form partnerships in their local communities, further expanding the delivery of services.

The theme of the 2020 VHA CPC is the social determinants of health (SDOH). SDOH are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Examples of SDOH are access to transportation, food security, and employment.

Winners from the 2020 CPC were recently announced, but VHA is highlighting other outstanding partnership submissions from across the country.

Veteran Led Garden: A Master Gardener Partnership

The partnership between the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks (VHSO) and the Washington County Master Gardeners program addresses food security for Veterans through education: Veterans who want to help work in the Veteran garden gain important knowledge about growing fresh produce. Veterans also have the opportunities to engage in the process of growing their own food, to get more exercise, and to experience the benefit of eating fresh produce in a safe and healthy environment.

Food insecurities or insufficiencies in Veteran populations are a real risk in Arkansas, and crosses gender, age, and housing status. When VHSO submitted its work for consideration to the CPC, the submitters quoted a police officer in the region who said this project even saved a Veteran’s life.

“Becoming involved in the garden gave this Veteran a purpose and a passion to help other Veterans,” said the officer. “This Veteran had been homeless at one time and understands the luxury of fresh produce. This drives her to help other Veterans and to recruit others to the program.”

Jean Nelson, VA Chairperson of the Veteran Garden Committee, added, “the partnership with the Master Gardeners has been phenomenal, and through this partnership, the garden has been expanded and has flourished.  Now the garden not only provides hundreds of pounds of produce to support our Veteran’s with food insecurities,  It has allowed us to provide a beautiful healing space for Veterans to come work in the garden or to just sit and enjoy the beauty of their surroundings.”

The Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program started in 1972 in Washington state and now exists in all 50 states. In 2018, the EMG chapter located in Washington County, Arkansas, had:

  • More than 3,000 volunteers in 67 counties across Arkansas;
  • More than 98,000 education hours; and
  • 162,879 service hours at the gardens.

VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) hosts the CPC each year to highlight outstanding community-level partnerships, and to encourage others to create similar partnerships to benefit Veterans. OCE’s mission is to serve as a trusted resource and a catalyst for the growth of effective partnerships at the national, state, and community level and as a facilitator and access point for public and private entities interested in partnering with VHA to benefit Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

“Partnerships like the one between VHSO and the Washington County Master Gardeners program are crucial for increasing access to the positive SDOH for Veterans,” said Dr. Tracy Weistreich, nurse executive for OCE. “Recognizing these programs each year following the Challenge is a great way to amplify their influence and inspire others to make a positive, lasting impact on Veterans’ health and well-being.”

For more information on OCE’s work or to contact OCE for partnership opportunities, please visit: https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/.

External Link Disclaimer: This page contains links that will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs website. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of the linked websites.

Posted September 09, 2020