Instead of relying entirely on prescription medicine to solve medical problems, healthcare providers at a free clinic in Wheeling, W.Va., are prescribing healthy, fresh foods to a pilot group of patients. It’s a grant-funded initiative called Farmacy, offered through the clinic, Health Right Wheeling, and a food advocacy organization, Grow Ohio Valley.
The Farmacy is the brainchild of Carol Greco, D.O., and physician assistant Amanda Cummins. Last year they were running a diabetes support group when they realized that many of the group members didn’t eat fresh vegetables, period.
“We would reference, you know, ‘Let’s food prep’ … [or] ‘You should do this – make batches of rice at the beginning of the week,’” said Cummins. “And it was like ‘We don’t even know how to boil rice.’”
Cummins and Greco shifted to teaching basic cooking skills for a couple of weeks. This helped.
But Greco and Cummins felt they needed to take the project one step further. In collaboration with Grow Ohio Valley, Health Right Wheeling procured a grant to start the Farmacy. The grant gave them enough money to give prescriptions of produce to 35 people for 15 weeks.
At the Farmacy, after Greco fills out a prescription card for “20 dollars of fresh vegetables,” she’ll gesture to the tent beside her where Kate Marshall of Grow Ohio Valley is helping a patient pick out onions, potatoes, micro greens, tomatoes and various fruits.
“They hand that [the prescription card] in to Kate over there who kind of directs them as to what they have as the doctor’s choice,” said Greco. “We have one or two choices a week of the fresh local produce, and then they get a personal choice of anywhere between six and 10 items that they get to pick.”
In the first two weeks, 98 percent of participants turned out to get their vegetables, said Greco. The third week about three quarters of participants showed up, a drop that Marshall attributes to the heavy rain through which most participants had to walk get to the clinic.
Over the next 12 weeks Greco and Cummins will be monitoring participants such as Brenda and Brooke Mazza to see if their health problems diminish with their access to healthy food. Appalachia Health News will also be following the Mazzas over the next 12 weeks to see what impact fresh food has on their lives.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on 8/2/2016
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.