Health

Louisville Metro government is the latest employer to experiment with the idea that providing employees with fresh vegetables might decrease health costs and improve worker health.

Over the summer, 41 employees from three city departments — Youth Detention Services, Resilience and Community Services and Public Health and Wellness — signed up for a pilot employee benefit: weekly deliveries from Rootbound Farm at a discounted rate. This sort of delivery is traditionally called community-supported agriculture, or CSA.

Louisville Metro health program analyst Jessica Klein said the University of Kentucky surveyed city employees about their daily vegetable intake before the program began, and then after it ended. At the beginning, employees ate an average of four servings a day.

“They really found that we increased our vegetable consumption by two servings a day, which we thought was really important because we kind of made it to that five-to-seven recommended vegetables,” said Klein. “People also said that they ate less processed food, like chips or pretzels.”

These 41 employees are part of a larger project by the University of Kentucky, where researchers are analyzing data from workers who partake in CSAs through a work benefit. In a November study of University of Kentucky employees, researchers analyzed the medical claims of participants, and compared them to claims from employees that did not use the CSA benefit in 2015 and 2016.

For the 2015 pilot, the high-medical cost participants had an average decrease of $434 in the following six months of medical claims compared to high-cost nonparticipants.

Bree Pearsall, the owner of Rootbound Farm, said the farm is part of a broader group of farmers pushing for employers to see a CSA as an employee benefit.

“This research that’s just come out of University of Kentucky is really cutting edge — it puts the numbers behind what it looks like to have access to healthy food,” Pearsall said. “And what a difference that can make in your diet and how good you feel.”

She said about 10 employers are working with the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition across the state to offer employees the CSA benefit.

A 22-week full share usually costs $649.00 and a small share is $462.00. Metro Government employees got a $200 discount from their employer.

In anonymous feedback compiled in surveys, one employee commented that the price was still prohibitive for a single person.

“I split a full share with 2 other coworkers. Realistically, splitting the cost three ways even with the employer discount was the only way I could have participated in this year’s CSA — the overall cost was just too high for me otherwise, which was disappointing.”

Other employees said they liked trying new vegetables and wished the growing season lasted longer. Others said they would have liked fruit to be included,

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.