This holiday season, Forsyth Farmers’ Market director Jeb Bush got exactly what he wished for.
The market was awarded a $455,000 grant from the USDA to begin a produce prescription program in the spring.
“This is something we’ve wanted for the past couple years, but it’s just been an issue of securing the funds to do it,” says Bush.
Produce prescription programs have been implemented in other cities in an effort to promote healthy eating.
“Instead of doctors writing prescriptions for medicine, they’re writing prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables, and those prescriptions are actually gift certificates for free produce,” explains Bush.
The 912 Food Farmacy will partner with four local health clinics: Memorial Health Children’s Hospital, Chatham County Health Department, St. Joseph’s/Candler’s St. Mary’s Health Center, and JC Lewis Primary Health Care Center. Each clinic will recruit about 60 participants who are low-income and at risk for or currently have a diet-related chronic disease.
In the case of the 912 Food Farmacy, the four clinics will be writing the prescription for fresh produce after the participants go through their health check-up and watch a healthy cooking demonstration. At the end of the check-up, they’ll receive their voucher for fresh fruit and vegetables, which they can redeem at either the Forsyth Farmers’ Market on Saturdays or at any of the 13 Farm Trucks that put up shop all over our city.
They’ll have this check-up once a month for six months, and a new group of participants will begin again the next year.
“All in all, over the course of three years, 600 different families will be participating in this program,” says Bush.
What’s unique about this program is that families will also benefit. Everyone in the participant’s household will receive vouchers as well.
“It really will encompass the whole family’s health,” says Bush. “The effect will be much larger than the 600 people—we estimate about 2,000 people will be affected by this grant.”
Currently, the Children’s Hospital at Memorial has a weight management program that the 912 Food Farmacy is set to complement.
“Within the weight management program, we set goals based on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and overall living a healthier life,” says Brittany Lightsey, children’s wellness coordinator and dietitian. “So this program will alleviate those barriers of getting access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This is a program we’ve been implementing for several years now at the Children’s Hospital, where we’ve been teaching families how to cook and prepare seasonal food and implement that across inpatient and outpatient. It’s been a passion of ours so they can take those skills home. This [program] just accentuates that program.”
The family aspect of the program is of particular importance to Lightsey and the Children’s Hospital.
“We preach that a lot as well: it takes the whole family and the parents to role-model healthy changes as their division of responsibility,” says Lightsey. “Ellyn Satter is the guru of this, but the parents plan, prepare and provide healthy meals, and the children choose whether or not to eat it based on what is provided. It’s essentially the parents’ job to make healthy changes for the whole household and lead that venture. We are a children’s hospital, we’re providing these produce prescriptions for children, but their whole family gets to take it home.”
The Chatham County Health Department also currently offers nutrition education through WIC.
“What this will do is help us grow that mission through the grant-funded dietitian, through the Farmacy program,” says Randy McCall, public health administrator, “and they’ll offer these types of nutritional education classes to a variety of citizens across Chatham County who sign up and make the commitment. So our hope is that we will take that nutrition message to more than just the public health clients who come through our doors. In turn, it addresses our mission to promote provision of healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and this makes it easy to get those.”