We’ve heard the phrase, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and generally, most people accept that healthy eating helps to lower blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight and increase immunity to common illnesses.
For some people living in food insecure areas, however, access to nutrient-rich foods is extremely limited. The Fruit and Vegetable Program, known as FVRx, provides “prescriptions” to low-income participants that can then be redeemed at the Athens Farmers Market for fruits and vegetables.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Low-income individuals who cannot afford healthy food, or do not have access to resources to educate themselves about healthy eating, can suffer from food-related illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
This program helps to promote access to healthy foods, while teaching families how to care for their bodies through their diet.
Sarah Thurman, the market manager at Athens Farmers Market and one of the coordinators of the FVRx program said, “We started this program because medical providers are finally seeing diet-related illnesses as a major cause of expense in the healthcare industry, a major cause of suffering for people in this country, and the root of the problem is food access and food education.”
Participants in the program must commit to six months of training, six weeks of intensive health education classes and then they are enrolled in monthly financial literacy classes for the following months.
Recruitment is mainly done through specific community centers, and through Athens Nurses Clinic, which partners with Athens Farmers Market to provide the prescriptions for the program.
According to Thurman, enrollment has been the hardest part of the program. Finding the right participants who have the time and ability to commit to classes, in addition to preparing and cooking healthy meals, has been difficult.
Although FVRx has met their enrollment goal both years, it was a strenuous process.
Participants must have a stable living situation with access to a kitchen, so they are able to store and cook the vegetables.
“In our first two years, we’ve enrolled around 60 people so far, but we provide food for the whole family, so we’ve provided food for about 160 people, and hopefully it’ll grow,” said Thurman.
The FVRx program is a project of Wholesome Wave Georgia, which describes the program as a “proven evidence-based model of preventative healthcare with a demonstrated impact, resulting in healthier communities, food systems and local economies.”
Wholesome Wave Georgia currently runs the FVRx program in Athens, Atlanta and Augusta, but there are many other cities in Georgia that qualify as food insecure.
According to Feeding America, 15.1 percent of Georgians are food insecure, meaning that they don’t always know where they will find their next meal.
The FVRx program is run by partnerships. Athens Nurses Clinic provides the prescriptions, a combination of donors including Wholesome Wave Georgia, Athens Farmers Market and Piedmont Community Benefits Grant provide the funding and the UGA SNAP Education office provides the classes.
So, for this program to be sustainable in other cities, organizations and businesses must pool their resources and partner together to provide the different components necessary to fund projects like this.
Thurman said, “The most rewarding part is watching people who never thought they would fit in at a farmers market take that step and do something that makes them uncomfortable. Through the process of coming every week and staying in the program they become a part of the family, and it’s really beautiful to see.”
Lydia Megdal is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.