Prescribing Healthy Food for a Healthy Lifestyle

Wheeling Health Right’s ‘FARMacy’ Has the Cure

WHEELING — Poor nutrition is a problem that afflicts many people, but can those reliant on food stamps the hardest.

Seeking to combat this, a partnership between Grow Ohio Valley and Wheeling Health Right has cropped up, aimed at enriching the diets of not only patients, but the area at large.

The “FARMacy” program, a mobile farmer’s market outside the Health Right building on 29th Street in Wheeling, offers a selection of fruits and vegetables, as well as honey and other organically produced produce, each Thursday through mid-October. Kate Marshall, who works with Grow Ohio Valley, said the program sprung up with the intention of creating a measurable increase in public health through better eating.

“We’re always looking for more ways to increase food access,” Marshall said. “One of the things we realized, working with low-income families, was that acquiring fresh produce can sometimes be expensive. The idea here was to give it as medicine, so it’s covered under prescription. Our patients, who already meet all the socioeconomic factors just by being at Health Right, can come and pick up produce each week.”

While Dr. Carol Greco said she has not yet written any scripts for specific foods, she said it’s something that may become a reality in the future.

Greco said the FARMacy program specifically accounted for 35 people, not including the members of the public, and recorded data on their overall health before the program began in July. Greco said she strongly expects that by the end of the program in October, the results will show an improvement in several areas of health, such as blood pressure, weight and blood sugar levels.

“We highly suspect there will be improvement there, just by providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables once a week to our patients,” Greco said. “Diabetes and hypertension are both affected by what you eat. That’s why our goal is to provide good, healthy food so people can control those diseases, in addition to their medication. There are a lot of places in West Virginia who are watching this program, hoping to replicate it.”

The FARMacy offers numerous locally grown food options, grown either through Grow Ohio Valley in an urban farm setting or from local farmers within a 50-mile radius of Wheeling.

“We didn’t want to just pack their bags and hand it to them, and at the same time it offers us the opportunity to strike up a conversation with them,” Marshall said. “Every mile your food travels, the more nutrients it loses, so the more local you can eat, the more beneficial it will be.”

Both Greco and Marshall said they want to see the FARMacy program grow, with more people coming to expand their culinary horizons and add variety to their diets.

“We really want the local public to come as well. One side of the market is open to anyone, and we have a problem called ‘SNAP Match,’ where if you’re on food stamps, any produce item is half off if you show your food stamp card,” Marshall said. “If you’re on a food budget, we understand that going to the grocery store can be a significant portion of that, and you’re still left having to feed all your kids. If a box of macaroni is $1, and a tomato is $1, you’re going to pick the one that gives you more food. We’re hoping through this program, folks will have some funds that they can get a salad, or add some variety.”

“We’d like to continue going on with this program next year, so we’re looking for funding to do that, and we’re looking to provide more access to more patients with the same opportunity,” Greco said. “Over the last seven, eight weeks, this has grown tremendously. It’s opening up the community, and we see a lot more of them than we do patients.”

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