Rural Action and the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA) have forged a new partnership to expand our distribution into West Virginia and to get good food into the hands of people who need it most. Coplin Health Systems (CHS), in partnership with WVU Extension Service, coordinate the FARMacy, a fresh produce prescription program to help patients manage chronic health conditions through diet. The program helps ensure patient have access to healthy fruits and vegetables to improve their nutrition. As Coplin’s Senior Project Manager, Sarah Barton says, “Healthy food is a proven treatment and preventative measure for a lot of health conditions.” We are, after all, only as healthy as the food we eat.
The program takes a village to be successful. Coplin’s providers identify patients to participate in this program and educate those patients about the impact of a healthy diet. Every other week during the program, patients receive a share of produce at a Coplin clinic to take home and use as they wish. WVU Extension Service’s role is to help individuals learn how to prepare the produce. WVU Extension Agent, Gwen Crum sends home recipes to help patients incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diet.
Last year, the FARMacy involved one farmer bringing his produce to Parkersburg Family Care, a clinic in Wood County, WV. This year they’re sourcing produce grown by many farmers at the Chesterhill Produce Auction and are expanding into Wirt and Jackson County. To provide the produce for the program, CPA staff and service members bid for a variety of items, put together individual shares in paper bags, and deliver them to Coplin’s clinics on FARMacy day. Sarah explained, “The way that Rural Action is able to deliver makes it very easy for us to be able to offer this program at the clinic. We simply unload and then distribute it.” At this point, 230 households receive fresh produce bi-weekly.
This initiative is truly a holistic approach to improving health and reducing barriers to fresh food. Coplin serves a high-risk population that experiences chronic health conditions and limited financial resources. “Wirt County is very rural,” says Gwen Crum, “and many of the individuals we serve have limited access to fresh food.” Over 55% of the program participants can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, and others have trouble accessing them because of transportation barriers or because they live in rural food deserts. The FARMacy seeks to solve many of these issues at once — bringing together patients, doctors, food educators, and local farmers.
And it’s working! “Last year we saw an overall decrease in participant’s body mass indexes (BMI) and a team of patients even lost 78 pounds during the program,” Sarah reports. The FARMacy helps patients with diabetes, hypertension, or other health conditions to actually see how eating well improves their health. At the same time, the FARMacy program supports local farmers. It’s a win-win.
Molly Sowash is a national service AmeriCorps member with Rural Action‘s Sustainable Agriculture team. You’ll find her at the Chesterhill Produce Auction loading produce, checking customers out, or making friends with the livestock. She studied Creative Writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN and lived in Minneapolis for three years before returning to her roots in Ohio.