There’s a healthy food movement underway in the southwest corner of the state. LiveWell Montrose Olathe, in collaboration with Valley Food Partnership and Montrose Memorial Hospital, has created the Local Farmacy Rx program designed to improve the health of families in Montrose and Olathe by making local fruits and vegetables affordable and accessible. The program started in August 2014 and consists of four components: a medical provider network, an education series, an incentive program conducted in coordination with the local farmers market and a social support network.
“As [LiveWell Montrose Olathe] began our strategic planning process, we surveyed the community and access to affordable fruits and vegetables kept rising to the top as a key issue,” says Abbie Brewer, Local Farmacy Rx manager. “The local City Market grocery store serves more SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps] participants than many other cities on the Western Slope, so we knew this was important.”
The program received grant funding from the Colorado Health Foundation and served 32 individuals in nine families in its first year. It will expand to serve 40 families in 2015. Families are referred into the program through the medical provider’s network, which works with doctors and health clinics to issue prescriptions for fruits and vegetables, along with ideas on maintaining a healthy, active life. Pediatric Associates, the first Local Farmacy Rx provider, serves over 9,000 Montrose children, 75% of whom are currently on Medicaid.
Once in the program, families participate in an education series led by Montrose Memorial Hospital, which teaches parents and children to cook alongside each other. Each session includes a lesson, such as food safety and storage or proper freezing and canning, along with a cooking opportunity.
“Through the education sessions, we were able to introduce new foods like snap peas and purple broccoli to these families’ diets,” Brewer says. And families were learning important lessons that increased the nutritional value of the food they were consuming.
“One mother in the program came to me to tell me how the snack packs—Ziploc containers filled with grapes, carrots and other healthy snack foods—were saving her so much money,” Brewer says. “‘The kids pack their snack packs and eat them on the way home from school,’ she said, ‘so now so I don’t have to stop at Burger King for snacks every day.’”
As participants in the program, the families also receive stipends—$35 a week for a 12 week period—to utilize at the local farmer’s market. “Out of the nine families in the program, seven had never been to the farmers market before,” Brewer says.
During the inaugural year of the program, the local farmers market saw a 2.7% increase in fruit and vegetable sales and participating families reported a 2-3 servings a day increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, participants reported a median reduction of 1.5% in their body mass indexes during the program period and a 30% increase in eating family meals together.
“Initially, I was worried that it might be difficult for our participants to make all of the sessions,” Brewer says. “But people showed up and were very committed to finishing the program. In fact, many of them want to continue to meet to support each other’s healthy eating habits and are excited to share their newfound information with others.”
To address this desire, a social support network component was added to the program. Through it, program participants and other interested individuals will meet monthly to share a healthy potluck meal, along with recipes, suggestions, tips and ideas.
Families are volunteering to be mentors for next year’s program participants, as well. “This is exciting,” Brewer says. “Initially people were afraid to use new products. But now, they can cook and use local produce in different ways and want to share that knowledge.”
To learn more about Local Farmacy Rx program, visit www.localfarmacyrx.org.