Johnson City Press: You are what you eat: Appalachian Farmacy prescribes healthy food to area residents

You are what you eat: Appalachian Farmacy prescribes healthy food to area residents

Luna Brewer • Updated Jun 21, 2017 at 11:21 PM

Beginning July 8, senior citizens and low-income patients with diabetes and heart disease in Johnson City and Jonesborough can fill a different kind of weekly prescription.

A prescription for fruits and vegetables.

Thanks to a federal grant from the Department of Agriculture’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, the Appalachian Farmacy can continue working to improve health outcomes in the region by increasing low-income patients’ access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. Patients at the Johnson City Community Health Center and clients at the Johnson City and Jonesborough Senior Centers with prescriptions for fresh foods can redeem them at the Johnson City and Jonesborough Farmers Markets and the Boone Street Market.

The project has been spearheaded by a coalition of community partners, including the Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development Council, Appalachian Sustainable Development, East Tennessee State University College of Public Health and ETSU College of Nursing, the Johnson City Farmers Market and others.

“Congratulations and thank you to the RC&D group and to the Appalachian Farmacy,” said Lana Moore, field representative for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. “It’s an exciting endeavor, but not only that, you are what you eat. The more fruits and veggies you eat, the better off you are. I’ve heard a lot of people saying ‘it’s so expensive to eat healthy.’ So (the Appalachian Farmacy) removes one of the barriers by giving participants access to local, healthy foods.”

A total of $56,000 will be invested in the direct purchase of fruits and vegetables; participants with prescription vouchers can redeem up to $28 per week. The prescriptions will be in the form of coupons that can be redeemed each week until the program ends Nov. 18. The program will also offer monthly cooking and nutrition classes at no additional cost for program participants.

The Appalachian Farmacy isn’t the first of its kind: it was inspired by the Farmacy program in Letcher County, Kentucky.

In 2016, more than $86,000 worth of vouchers were redeemed at the Letcher County market, which grew from six vendors in 2014 to more than 40 last year. Similar programs are working in communities across the nation and many have shown marked health benefits for participants.

“It’s programs like Appalachian Farmacy that we know will make the difference in our communities,” said Stacy Baugues, regional director of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness.

The Farmacy initiative is also important from a research standpoint.

In Northeast Tennessee, one in five residents and one in four children under 18 live at or below the federal poverty line. Poverty and food insecurity are tied to poor access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which is in turn related to high rates of “lifestyle” diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

However, according to 2015 America's Health Rankings report, lifestyle diseases can be greatly mitigated through better nutrition and increased physical activity. For these reasons, ETSU has been extremely involved in the initiative.

“Our role is going to be measuring the impact of the program,” Associate Professor Dr. Deb Slawson said. “We are actually going to quantify the impact and share it to hopefully spur further investigations along this line.”

Slawson is chair of ETSU’s College of Public Health.

To sign up for the Farmacy, families and individuals must be current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and EBT recipients. Eligible families can enroll at the Johnson City Community Health Center, Johnson City Senior Center or Jonesborough Senior Center. Health metrics like weight, BMI and A1C levels will be taken and a prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables will be issued.

“People can get healthy foods and support local farmers,” Moore said. “It's a win-win situation.”

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