Food as Medicine

Despite the absence of a facility in 2016, Windy City Harvest (WCH) and Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC) forged ahead and piloted components of the Food as Medicine initiative in a temporary space. The Farm on Ogden will be a permanent home for the program after its launch in 2017.

Veggie RX

A new Veggie Rx program, which began in July 2016, offers free prescriptions of healthy, organically grown produce to eligible patients. Th­e goal is to deliver 900 boxes this year, and even more next year. The VeggieRx concept was developed by a coalition of LCHC physicians, Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion, and nutritionists from University of Illinois-Chicago’s dietetics program. In a survey of participants, top barriers to eating vegetables were revealed as

  • price (54%),
  • “I don’t know how to cook” (22%),
  • “They spoil too fast” (22%), and
  • “Not available in my neighborhood” (18%).

WCH hired a UIC dietetics graduate student intern to implement weekly distribution and participant surveys. From July through November, nineteen LCHC doctors prescribed the VeggieRx boxes, and a total of 829 pounds of produce were donated to 416 patients at Lawndale Christian Heath Center. Favored vegetables were collards, kale, beets, green tomatoes, and red tomatoes. The VeggieRx boxes included produce as well as recipes, information on the weekly community markets, and a $15 coupon for fresh produce to encourage repeat customers.

WCH staff and youth helped distribute the produce, making the program more approachable and accessible to those in the community. Monthly nutrition classes led by a UIC nutritionist ensured the recipients had the knowledge and skills to use the food obtained. All VeggieRx recipients came from households in need. With a pilot year completed, staff is planning 2017 delivery and refining strategies to reach those most in need.

Participants also increased access to healthy food in their communities by selling farm produce at below-market prices at weekly neighborhood farm stands. Last year Windy City Harvest participants generated 111,000 pounds of produce and delivered nearly 76,000 servings to low-income individuals that were donated or sold at 50% market rates in low-income areas and often purchased with federal nutrition benefits. This figure is poised to grow when the Farm on Ogden is operating and generating 44,000 pounds of leafy green and fish through the hydroponics and aquaponics growing systems.

Wellness Workshops

In collaboration with the American Diabetes Association, Youth Farm piloted 20 nutrition and wellness workshops to participants and their parents and/or family members. Students at each site participated in five one-hour education sessions tailored to address identified risk factors and connect personal health choices to chronic disease outcomes. Topics covered included

1) general introduction to nutrition,

2) importance of physical activity,

3) menu planning and cooking demonstration,

4) liquid calorie consumption and hydration, and

5) healthy snacking.

As an example of one outcome, the share eliminating sugary beverages rose from 9% to 20%. Staff is making enhancements to this program and anticipate an even more successful year in 2017.

WCH Youth Farm participants ate nutritious breakfasts and lunches—approximately 3,300 meals— daily during the summer session. Because many children lose access to regular breakfasts and lunches from school during the summer months, most of the Youth Farm students came to depend on meals at the farm sites for their sustenance and enjoyment. Through communal cooking, teens learned to prepare simple meals using fresh ingredients. Peer-supported Get Healthy Goals encouraged good eating, sleeping, and exercise habits; 100% of students set personal goals (i.e., eating at least three vegetables and two fruits each day) and met at least twice with staff to report progress. At the end of the summer, 100% of the youth reported knowing how to cook a meal using fresh vegetables, and 94% reported a changed diet consisting of at least one serving of vegetables per day. Daily fruit consumption also rose from 77% to 95%. This past fall, the Garden published a WCH cookbook, Cooking in Season with Windy City Harvest, featuring seasonal recipes incorporating produce grown and harvested on WCH farms.

Through Food as Medicine, WCH and LCHC will have an impact on the community by meeting basic needs, such as food security and training/employment, while implementing strategies that support family health and provide community education.

Presented by: Windy City Harvest

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