LYNCHBURG, Va. – Joseph Schriffer is 35 years old and, for the past five years, he usually starts his Monday at Lynchburg Grows, cutting fresh vegetables for those in need.
"I'm a farm technician, I think is the right word to use. I'm basically going around getting fresh vegetables for the customers, for Lynchburg Grows," Schriffer said.
Schriffer and seven others who work for Lynchburg Grows have a form of mental or physical disability.
The executive director, Shelly Blades, said that, several years ago, the organization realized there was a specific need in the community.
"Everything's that's done on the farm is done by them: harvesting, processing, selling. All of it is done by them," Blades said.
But Lynchburg Grows isn't only giving those with disabilities a chance, it is helping those who live in food desert communities too. In 2017, the organization grew almost 24,000 pounds of food. A portion of that is used in its Veggie Van program, in which Lynchubrg Grows sets up markets in food desert areas in the Hill City and sells vegetables at a low cost to those who don't have access to a grocery store.
"So more than 18% of our community lives in a food-insecure home and we're just trying to bridge that gap," Blades said.
One of its newest programs is Fresh Rx. A Lynchburg doctor prescribes that a patient, diagnosed with a chronic disease such as diabetes or hypertension go to Lynchburg Grows, where, for 10 the patient takes nine courses on nutrition and healthy cooking. The patient also gets also get a bag full of fresh produce to take home and prepare after every class.
"Maybe they already know how to cook collards but they only know how to cook collards down with ham, which is delicious, but there's some other healthier ways to do that," Blades said.
While Lynchburg Grows has helped Schriffer in one way, he's glad he can have an influence on others.
"It makes me feel happy to know we're here and people to know that they can come to get healthy vegetables for their and their kids," Schriffer said.