By Collin Brooks
Clinics will soon be writing prescriptions for fresh produce, adding to the adage that ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ At least that is the hope with the new Appalachian Farmacy.
The mission of the new group is to improve health outcomes in the region by increasing access for low-income patients to purchase, cook and consume more locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“A lot of diseases can be greatly impacted by eating healthier,” said Lexy Close, who wrote the grant for the Appalachian Resource and Development Council and serves as beginning farmer support. “So we are hoping that in influx of fresh produce will have some impact.”
In order to receive the benefits, a patient must already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through the government. Those cards are already allowed to be used at the Farmer’s Market.
The Appalachian Farmacy will provide patients at the Johnson City Community Health Center and clients at the Johnson City and Jonesborough Senior Centers with “prescriptions” for fresh fruits and vegetables which can be redeemed at the Johnson City and Jonesborough Farmers Markets and the Boone Street Market.
“If we can make people healthier through this program, then that could also reduce costs at the clinic,” Close said.
The idea was inspired by an identical program in Letcher County, Kentucky, that has now completed its second year.
Last year, in that program, they were able to provide over $86,000 worth of vouchers that were redeemed at their market, which grew from 6 vendors in 2014 to over 40 vendors in 2016.
That is one of many programs in the nation that have shown marked participant health benefits including a decrease in body mass index, and an increase in food security and fruit and vegetable consumption.
Close said that she made a trip to Letcher County to watch first hand the impact that the program had and she did some research and discovered that there was funding available through a federal FDA grant in a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grants. The grants come in particular sizes and the one that the ARCD received is for $100,000, with the monies needing to be matched locally, which the ARCD is doing with man hours.
A total of $56,000 will be invested in the direct purchase of fruits and vegetables, through prescription vouchers that participants can redeem at the Johnson City Farmers Market, Jonesborough Farmers Market and at the Boone Street Market in Jonesborough — that is $56,000 invested in the regional agricultural economy. By the end of the summer, participants will report increased consumption of fresh foods, and improved knowledge, behaviors, and health.
Patients will receive prescriptions for $1 per day per family member, up to $28 per week. The prescriptions will be in the form of a coupon which can be redeemed each week at the Johnson City and Jonesborough Farmers Markets and the Boone Street Market. At the markets, they will receive colored tokens that can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at individual vendors’ booths. Additionally, the program will offer monthly cooking and nutrition classes that will be free for program participants to attend. The program is capable of serving up to 125 families or over 400 individuals and will begin on Saturday, July 8.
Tennessee is ranked 43rd in the country for “health outcomes,” according to the 2015 America’s Health Rankings report. Research has shown that lifestyle diseases can be greatly mitigated through better nutrition and increased physical activity, demonstrating the importance of interventions like Appalachian Farmacy.
The project has been spearheaded by a broad coalition of community partners focused on farm, food and health issues. The coalition includes the Appalachian RC&D Council; Appalachian Sustainable Development; ETSU College of Public Health and ETSU College of Nursing; Food City’s Nutrition office; Johnson City Senior Center; Jonesborough Senior Center; Jonesborough Locally Grown (Jonesborough Farmers Market & Boone Street Market); Johnson City Farmers Market; the UT Extension Service; and representatives of Mountain States Health Alliance’s Community Education Dietitians.