By Jenna Bacolor,
Washtenaw County Public Health
Rose*, an African American woman in her mid-50s, used to look out her apartment window and watch as shoppers bought fresh produce at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market directly across the street from her building.
As a diabetic, she knew that eating fruits and vegetables was important, but she never went to the market. She assumed that her very limited income wouldn’t allow her to shop there.
Things changed one day when Rose and her elderly mother attended their regular diabetes support group at a local medical clinic. A staff person told the group about a new program from Washtenaw County Public Health called “Prescription for Health,” which provided tokens to spend on fresh produce at the farmers’ market. She and her mother went to the market for the first time the next Tuesday.
When I visited the diabetes support group and met Rose for the first time, she had used all of her tokens but was still shopping at the farmers’ market. She had learned that shopping for locally-grown food in-season was often more economical than buying at the grocery store.
She also found out that she and her mother could use their Bridge Cards (Food Stamp cards) to buy produce and other food at the farmers’ market.
Perhaps most importantly, shopping at the market helped Rose and her mother better manage their diabetes and weight.
Rose’s story, combined with positive evaluation results from the program as a whole, inspired us to think big as we sought grant funding to continue the program — how many more patients could we reach? What other communities in Washtenaw County could benefit from this approach?
Thanks to a grant from the Kresge Foundation, this year Washtenaw County Public Health will offer the Prescription for Health program in more clinics and at an additional farmers’ market.
There will be two participating clinics in Ypsilanti (The Corner Health Center and Neighborhood Family Health Center) and three in Ann Arbor (Packard Health, Packard West and New Hope Outreach Clinic). Patients from the clinics will receive books of coupons to spend at either theDowntown Ypsilanti Farmers Market or the Westside Ann Arbor Farmers Market.
In addition to the coupons to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables, patients will receive on-site nutrition education and support at each farmers’ market. A registered dietician funded by the grant will be available with recipes and individual nutrition advice for patients.
From our previous experience running this program, we know that low-income patients often struggle to follow medical advice that tells them to eat healthier — barriers such as cost, transportation, and lack of available healthy foods can prevent people from eating the foods they need.
To address this issue, Washtenaw County Public Health staff will also work with clinic staff to identify creative and effective ways of supporting their patients’ access to healthier foods. Beyond the farmers’ market, clinics will be informed about the grocery stores and smaller specialty markets that can provide healthy foods to their low income patients.
The ultimate goal of Prescription for Health is to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables among county residents who have difficulty accessing fresh food in our county. The bi-products aren’t bad, either — clinic staff learn new skills for supporting their patients’ good nutrition habits, and farmers markets gain new customers.
*Name changed to protect privacy.