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Prescription for Nutrition

Mar 7, 2019 | Newsletter, Stories of Change

After a series of major heart issues, Robin Derick would happily never set foot in a physician’s office again. But in order to get free produce weekly from the Turning Point Fresh Farmacy fruit and vegetable prescription program, she willingly participates in a customized health plan developed by Keuka Family Practice, where her doctor literally wrote her a prescription for fresh produce.

“I hate going to the doctor,” Robin says. “But I did because they said ‘fresh fruits and veggies.’”

Robin, a heart attack survivor, receives just $778 a month in disability. She lives in a small trailer on a hilltop in Avoca with no electricity or running water, and her only heat source is a small wood-burning stove she must feed every four hours. Recently, a small increase in her disability payment resulted in a decrease in her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, leaving her with less funds to buy the nutritious foods her health requires.

Because of her chronic heart condition, Robin had to quit her job as a school bus driver and has relied on the food pantry ever since. The addition of weekly produce from Fresh Farmacy takes away some of the stress she has felt to afford the foods she needs to maintain a heart-healthy diet on limited funds.

“You go to the store with $100 and try to eat heart-healthy for a month. It doesn’t happen,” Robin says. “Fresh Farmacy frees me up to buy the other healthy items I need, like extra virgin olive oil or canola oil instead of cheaper, less healthy kinds.”

The Fresh Farmacy prescription program was created last fall by Turning Point, a Food Bank partner agency in Bath. Turning Point used a Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) Seed Grant, administered by the Food Bank, to develop an innovative way to confronting emergency food delivery and the nutritional needs of people with low incomes.

Pantry Coordinator Joanna Gleason, right, helps Robin Derick pick out the produce she receives as part of the Fresh Farmacy prescription program.

Tess McKinley, director of Turning Point, says Medicaid is focusing more and more on prevention as a means to curb healthcare costs. “The Seed Grant provided the ability to start the program and demonstrate our worth. Our goal is to sustain the program with Medicaid funding. We would be saving Medicaid a lot of money if we can help people eat healthy and have better health outcomes.”

Tess continues, “People are eating a lot of junk because it’s all they can afford on SNAP, and they are unhealthy because of it. Eating whole foods and plant-based foods lowers rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancer, and can reduce heart disease. Medicaid spends billions of dollars on people going to the ER. But if you pay for prevention, you pay a lot less in the long run. If we show value, Medicaid will pay for our services.”

Fresh Farmacy participants must report to a participating medical provider for regular check-ups and Turning Point staff for check-ins. Turning Point monitors the progress of participants for six months, helping clients get to medical appointments and working to solve other barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Turning Point has recently expanded the Fresh Farmacy prescription program to Canisteo and Hornell, treating the whole person through access to healthy foods with the support of the healthcare community.