Prescription produce program promotes health

June 01, 2019

How Providence Farm-acy is improving nutrition

MTCBProduce3As a key social determinant of health, nutrition and associated education is increasingly a focus for doctors and registered dietitians who are prescribing healthy produce as an antidote to diabetes and other ailments. In a 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey of physicians, 85% felt that social problems were inextricably linked to good health, with 64% specifically naming access to nutritious food as one of the challenges their patients faced.

Yet healthy eating is sometimes expensive, which is why St. Patrick Hospital of Providence St. Joseph Health partnered with Garden City Harvest. Providence St. Patrick Hospital provided $5,000 in Community Benefit funding to create Providence Montana’s Prescription Produce Program (PMPPP), which allows patients access to fresh, local vegetables at a reduced price.

Making healthy eating accessible

Patients who struggle to put food on the table receive a voucher for $10 each month to shop at the farm stand. By improving nutrition, the program is helping patients lose weight and better manage chronic disease. Health care professionals are available at the market stand to answer medical questions and to provide cooking demonstrations and healthy recipes.

MTCBProduce“I think it is the best thing happening in the whole world," said Jay, a diabetic, who beamed as she loaded kale, carrots and broccoli into her shopping bag at a produce stand outside Missoula's Providence Center. She says she can now eat her greens and provide her children with healthier options.

Since 2015, the partnership has been able to prescribe healthy, affordable produce to 74 people. In 2018, 673 pounds of fresh produce was provided to the community from the garden, and another 257 pounds were donated to the Missoula Food Bank. According to Merry Hutton, Regional Director for Community Health Investment, PSJH Washington-Montana Region, “the program is thriving.”

Building community

Garden City Harvest also serves to build community through agriculture by growing produce with and for people with low-incomes, offering education and training in ecologically-conscious agriculture, and using its sites for the personal restoration of youth and adults.

“This is more than just a place to get inexpensive organic produce; it is place that builds community, engages youth and seniors alike and by so doing, reduces isolation,” says Hutton.

MTCBProduce2Garden City Harvest even has a mobile market that takes fresh vegetables to places around Missoula, such as affordable housing complexes. "This is cutting edge," Laurie Strand Bridgeman, Missoula Youth Harvest Director, said in an email. "So often, we want a quick fix for our medical issues. Putting quality food into our bodies is health care, and it is a long-term investment in our bodies and our health."

According to the physicians, by prescribing the produce, patients like Lene are reporting their consumption of fresh vegetables is going from one or two servings a week to 15 a week.

“By continuing to support this kind of programming, we hope not only to help those with chronic disease improve their health, but we are also sending a positive message about the importance of healthy eating out into our community, said Hutton.

Please learn more about the Garden City Harvest and our efforts to bring nutrition to the Western Montana community.