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Farm to clinic: Expanded Veggie Rx program fights hunger, malnutrition with farm-fresh produce deliveries
- July 09, 2021
- By Staff Writer
A steady stream of patients arrives at M Health Fairview Clinic – Woodwinds every Tuesday – not for a doctor’s visit, but for a box of produce.
The fresh fruit and vegetables – grown by Sin Fronteras Farm & Food – are part of our Veggie Rx program, which gives patients who are experiencing food insecurity access to free food deliveries and recipes. More than a dozen patients and families are participating at Woodwinds clinic this summer, thanks in part to our new partnership with Sin Fronteras.
After launching Veggie Rx in 2016 with a handful of patients at four East Metro clinics, we’ve continually expanded the program. This year, we’ve brought on a new grower partner in Sin Fronteras. The farm is focused on organic, sustainable farming practices and culturally-relevant ingredients for the Latinx community. We’re currently offering produce boxes from Sin Fronteras to patients at Woodwinds and more at M Health Fairview Clinic - Maplewood.
“Within M Health Fairview, those locations serve some of the largest Latinx communities,” said Therese Genis, M Health Fairview community health and wellbeing strategist. “We’ve asked clinics to focus on the Latinx patient population for these new boxes from Sin Fronteras, but it’s not closed off to other folks. We ultimately want the program to be available to whoever needs it.”
Healthcare workers identify participants for the Veggie Rx program by looking at their medical and social histories. They keep an eye out primarily for food insecurity, as well as conditions like malnutrition, iron and vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, and others that could potentially improve with a healthier diet.
If a patient agrees to participate, they are enrolled in the program for the entire growing season. The length of Veggie Rx varies with the different growers. Sin Fronteras will provide weekly deliveries for 18 weeks, and the program started at Maplewood and Woodwinds on June 22.
We also partner with the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) and the Women’s Environmental Institute (WEI). HAFA launched the program with us in 2015, using a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation to help fund the first season of produce boxes.
After seeing the positive impact on patients, M Health Fairview has continued to fund produce boxes from HAFA for our Bethesda, Phalen Village, Rice Street, and Roselawn clinics. These locations serve larger southeast Asian populations, who can benefit from HAFA’s culturally-responsive food and recipes. We provide produce boxes from WEI to our Chisago City, North Branch, and Rush City clinics.
In total, M Health Fairview now serves over 160 patient families at nine clinic locations through our Veggie Rx program. Data has shown a decrease in food insecurity and emergency department visits for participants, as well as an increase in patients who said they felt in good health.
“We also want to provide this partnership and to support local farms,” said Genis. “We’re an anchor institution in our community. We’re mindful of supporting the local farming economy through working with immigrant farmers and farmers of color, which provides them with steady income.”
M Health Fairview was recognized with a 2021 Community Impact Award from Twin Cities Business. Learn more about our other community health collaborations.
Veggie Rx is inspired in large part by the community supported agriculture (CSA) model. In a CSA program, households sign up for regular produce deliveries from a local farm. The growers benefit by having a predictable, stable source of income. For participants in our program, it also helps food insecurity and the accompanying mental and physical toll.
“We’re working on how to connect with patients outside of clinic visits and provide them with the resources they need to improve their health,” said Anna Milz, MD, medical director of our Woodwinds clinic. “We know that so much of healthcare takes place at home. Social determinants of health, including access to healthy foods, are such a large factor in how we care for our patients.”