Marcia Singson is switching the trip to the pharmacy with a trip to the farmer’s market.
She participates in the Food As Real Medicine Prescription Program, or Farm RX, a program on a mission to combat both food insecurity and growing health concerns among Athens’ low-income residents.Why It’s Newsworthy: Athens-Clarke County has a high population of food insecure residents
The six-month program provides organic, locally grown, produce to participants each week, along with cooking, nutrition and wellness programs. The ultimate goal of Farm RX is to produce lifestyle and habit changes for long-term improvement in the participants’ health.
“What Farm RX has allowed us to do is not only try different vegetables and fruits — that I normally wouldn’t — but also offered some really good and healthy recipes,” Singson says.
About one in six Clarke County residents are food insecure, according to Feeding America’s 2019 Map the Meal Gap study. Yet, over 6,000 of these residents do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, due to their income, the report found.
According to a study published in 2016 by the United States Department of Agriculture, most Americans do not eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, with cost being one of the main barriers for low-income households.
Poor nutrition can lead to chronic health issues, especially in children, according to Feeding America, a non-profit that focuses on reducing hunger in America through food banks, pantries and meal programs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poor eating habits contribute to conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Food as Medicine
The Farm RX program prescribes patients healthy food through partnerships with health clinics. The six-month program provides organic, locally grown produce each week, as well as nutrition, cooking and wellness classes, said Monica Bledsoe, the Farm RX Coordinator.
One adult from the household is responsible for joining the program and completing the requirements, but produce is provided for the entire family at a rate of $1 a day, per person in the household. FarmRX currently partners with Mercy Health Center, which serves a low-income population and is able to refer good candidates to the program.
Eating a more balanced and nutritious diet can help reduce sodium levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure, as well as contribute to a healthier weight. These things are all linked to long term health concerns, according to the CDC.
Singson said that besides getting produce, the classes have helped her shop healthier, by teaching her how to better understand nutrition labels and recognize which items are best to include in her diet.
Giving Back to the Community
FarmRX partners with local farms, like Cedar Grove, to provide the fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I think it’s way better than prescription drugs and pharmaceutical options and all that,” says Dylan Payne of Cedar Grove farm. “I think if people ate better and got a little exercise, we wouldn’t have half the medical conditions we have right now,” he said.
At the farmer’s market twice a week, participants check in with volunteers. They are given their allotted amount of money in tokens, which are then accepted by farmers at their stands. At the end of the market, the farmers then turn in those tokens to the Farm RX staff and are reimbursed with a check, Bledsoe explained.
“It’s helping us sell more food. It’s bringing more people who are apt to use their tokens because they can’t use them anywhere else. I see a lot of people getting a lot of food for their families,” Payne said.
Working with local partners also allows the program to give back to the community by supporting local businesses. Currently, seven local farms participate in the program.
The program is currently hosting 53 families, but Bledsoe would love to help more people in need.
“Our partners are in a position to grow to meet the demand of more families, we are just limited by funding,” Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe said that removing barriers for participants helps maintain a high active participation rate throughout the program. Volunteers help at the markets and provide transportation or deliveries to participants, for example.
Singson is grateful for the chance to participate. “I just can’t say enough good things,” she said.
Anyone interested in supporting the program financially or by volunteering can find Monica Bledsoe at the Athens Farmers Market’s welcome booth at Creature Comforts every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. or every Saturday at Bishop Park from 8 a.m. to noon. They can also email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victoria Eymard is working towards her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Georgia.
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