Skip to main content
Close
Shop Menu
By: The Villages | Jan 26, 2022

Villages Grown Adds Meal Kits to Offerings

Farm-to-table initiative has partnered with delivery service company Heirloom to bring fresh foods to residents’ homes.

America’s Healthiest Hometown picks up another reason for pride thanks to a partnership between a farm to-table initiative, a hyperbaric oxygen therapy center and a meal delivery service. The Villages Grown and Aviv Clinics joined forces with Heirloom, which prepares and delivers meal kits in Central Florida, to bring top-quality food to patients in Aviv’s three-month hyperbaric oxygen therapy program.

Villagers can also order online via Heirloom for weekly home delivery at https://orderheirloom.com/pages/villages-grown. Using food grown on its farm and local farm partners, The Villages Grown supplies produce for Heirloom’s meal kits. Many of Aviv’s patients wanted someone to prepare healthy meals for them, said Kathryn Parker, a dietitian with Aviv.

“People need good food and they trust me to find it,” she said. “And I want them to have a good experience. But I need to be comfortable with it.”

That comfort with Heirloom’s service comes from knowing The Villages Grown — which harvests its produce from two to 48 hours for the freshest and most nutrient dense food possible — is involved.

Nutrition plays a part in Aviv’s treatment because better eating habits allow patients to reap the maximum benefits of oxygen therapy, Parker said.

“There’s no forbidden food — just the amount,” she said.

The three entities commemorated their new partnership Tuesday night during a meet-and-greet event at Aviv, where former and current Aviv patients were invited to learn about their roles in bringing locally grown and nutritious food to patients and sample some of Heirloom’s menu items. Tables were adorned with clear glass vases containing lettuce and herb plants that resembled floral arrangements.

Currently, The Villages Grown is Heirloom’s only local supplier of farm products, said Jennifer Waxman, The Villages Grown’s executive director.

“Taking all the guesswork and thought out of (meal preparation), people have access to ready-to-eat meals, and they have our product in it,” she said. “It’s another point of accessibility for people who are committed to health and well-being.”

Heirloom’s service is often compared to nationally recognized meal delivery kit services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Waxman said she never tried meal kits from other services because she doesn’t know where they get their food, in contrast to the commitment to fresh and healthy food that Heirloom shares with The Villages Grown and Aviv.

It’s a philosophy Waxman touts as “food as medicine.”

We are a transparent local food system that ensures nutrient density, taste profile and shelf life, especially for those who are Villagers and living their best lives and very active,” she said.

In recent months, The Villages Grown developed numerous partnerships to expand access to the produce grown from its in controlled environment agriculture greenhouses along a 45-acre farm at the southwest corner of State Road 44 and Morse Boulevard, as well as local farm partners within a 100-mile radius of The Villages.

This included distribution deals with the supermarket chains Publix and Earth Fare, which made their food more accessible to customers in and around The Villages.

Partnering with Heirloom, a project of the Orlando catering company Puf ‘n Stuf, provides another way for The Villages Grown to increase access to its produce, Waxman said.

Heirloom’s menu rotates based on the season. Current items include a salmon cake garnished with The Villages Grown’s cilantro, mojo roasted chicken, and a stir-fry dish with options for orange chicken or tofu.

One dish Heirloom served at Tuesday’s event, a beet and pecan salad, featured a new crop to The Villages Grown: hemp.

Farmers began growing hemp in the greenhouses for culinary purposes, and Waxman expects hemp microgreens will be on the market within a month. She wanted to try growing it because of research that touted its high nutrient density.

“For vegans, it’s like eating a steak,” she said.

The Villages Grown is growing hemp from seed, not the bud or flower, so its plants contain no THC or CBD compounds, Waxman said. The favor may vary based on the type of hemp seed they grow from. Hemp microgreens shared on Tuesday had a nutty favor that Waxman compared to hazelnuts.

A new Heirloom menu in the works will feature not only a greater variety of food, project manager Rosie Gizelt said, but also will incorporate more of what The Villages Grown and its farm partners provide.

“There’s so many more nutrients in there when you don’t have so many preservatives,” she said.

Upcoming offerings will be designed with the needs of Aviv patients in mind, for instance, reducing salt and incorporating more superfoods, Gizelt said. Using local providers minimizes shipping issues and supply chain disruptions, she said.

“I think it’s hard to find a meal solution that’s made from scratch each day,” Gizelt said. “Our food is made fresh in the morning and delivered in the afternoon.”

Taken together, the work is designed to foster better health for community residents.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Tracy Vessillo, CEO of Puff ‘n Stuff, Heirloom’s parent company. “I started this company just to feed people. The partnership is phenomenal. If we could get this out as a vehicle for a healthier community, I couldn’t be more proud.”