These prescriptions are for vegetables – not pills
Francie Randolph is an artist with two degrees from Harvard University. Gus Schumacher is a former Under Secretary of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton. Kumara Sidhartha, MD is medical director of Emerald Physicians, part of Cape Cod Healthcare.
Through happenstance they discovered each other, and together they are forging an alliance to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to more Cape Codders, especially those who cannot access or afford them.
In doing so, they also hope to cut the costs of healthcare by reducing the incidence and severity of chronic diseases, while strengthening the Cape’s growing number of farms and farmers markets.
It’s an ambitious agenda, but one that is occurring across the country as part of an organization called Wholesome Wave, which Schumacher, who owns a home in Orleans, is a Founding Board Chair.
Now in 45 states and Washington, D.C., Wholesome Wave’s National Nutrition Incentive Network’s SNAP and fruit and vegetable prescription programs now have more than 250 partners, encouraging thousands of individuals and their families not only to access healthy affordable fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and retail outlets, but also receive nutrition education to cook and serve them at home.
Wholesome Wave’s Steven Farley said his organization “has seen extreme interest in the field for the fresh fruit and vegetable prescription programming, with more than 60 new network members in the past year demonstrating interest or actively operating prescription programs in their communities.
Wholesome Wave reports that 47 percent of those participating in the program experienced a decrease in their Body Mass Index (BMI) over four to six months. Among pediatric participants in 2011-2014, 55 percent experienced a decrease.
Nationwide, 15 percent of Wholesome Wave’s prescription participants receive WIC (Women, Infants and Children) assistance, 61 percent get SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) and 80 percent are on Medicaid.
The prescription program focused entirely on those people who have the most difficult time accessing fresh fruits and vegetables, said Randolph, a Truro resident who lives on an historic farm and founded Sustainable CAPE, a non-profit, non-governmental association, dedicated to local food, sustainable health and wellness.
That population may seem far away to the visitors and second homeowners who love the Cape, but in a place with thousands of multi-million-dollar homes, Barnstable County has the dubious distinction of ranking number one in Massachusetts when it comes to limited access to healthy food, noted Dr. Sidhartha.
“Nine percent of our population is low income and do not live close to a grocery store,” added Randolph. “That is more than twice the average statewide and more than any other county in the state.”
Thus was born FLAVORx, an acronym that stands for FARMERS and LOCAL HEALTH ALLIANCE for VEGETABLES and FRUIT prescription in an OUTCOME based and Rx program. It’s a collaboration between the primary care practice, Emerald Physician Services, under the medical leadership of Dr. Sidhartha and Sustainable CAPE, a local farmers’ market champion directed by its founder Francie Randolph, as well as strong support from Cape Cod Healthcare under the leadership of CEO Michael K. Lauf.