JEFFERSON CO., N.Y. — Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County’s SNAP-Ed program partners with Fidelis Care, North Country Family Health Care Center, and Save-a-Lot to deliver a fruit and vegetable prescription program to the North Country.
For years, Americans have not been eating enough fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet. For those living below the poverty line, this isn’t just a bad habit or lifestyle choice, it’s a complex issue involving less access to healthy foods, particularly fresh produce. This is complicated by systemic issues rooted in poverty ranging from transportation issues to lack of neighborhood grocery stores to overall limited food resources. The same population most at risk for chronic diseases like type II diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers may be more apt to purchase and consume shelf-stable, processed foods that are more readily available and familiar to them, putting them at further risk for obesity and diet-related disease. Many people in need of food assistance simultaneously struggle with conditions associated with overeating because of being overfed yet undernourished. Highly processed convenience foods are loaded with calories and stripped of nutrients. This makes the opportunity to promote affordable access to fruits and vegetables and healthy eating even more necessary and impactful.
The fruit and vegetable prescription (FVRX) initiative aims to do just that by addressing food insecurity and hunger through access to and consumption of high-quality foods for those in need. Rather than waiting until a patient is sick and in need of a medical prescription, FVRX provides early preventative care, which is a less costly and more effective alternative. Through funding from Fidelis Care Health Insurance, patients at the North Country Family Health Center will be screened by their primary care provider for eligibility and, if qualified, will receive a “prescription” for up to $120 worth of free fruits and vegetables. If North Country Family Health Center patients have questions about how to receive a FVRX “prescription” they can talk to their primary care provider or call 315-782-9450 to speak with a Health Center representative.
This “prescription” entitles patients to weekly nutrition workshops with a SNAP-Ed nutritionist from Cornell Cooperative Extension. These workshops will include a cooking demonstration, healthy recipes, and other resources to help participants reach the goal of making half their plate fruits and vegetables at every meal. To ensure that they can purchase the recommended daily allowance of produce, they will receive a $20 voucher at each workshop, redeemable for fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables at Save-a-Lot grocery store on State Street in Watertown. If they attend all six workshops, they will receive the total $120 allotment of vouchers.
The FVRX program originally launched this summer as part of a larger program throughout the North Country SNAP-Ed region. Federally Qualified Health Centers in both Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties partnered with local farmers to connect this target population to healthy, local produce. But now that the growing season is winding down, this new partnership with Save-a-Lot allows this program to continue throughout the winter. At a time when other healthy produce incentives like FreshConnect and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program are winding down, keeping fruits and vegetables within reach for those on a limited budget is essential to creating lasting change. SNAP-Ed has already graduated its first four patients through the FVRX program and plans to continue to offer weekly workshops right at the CCE office, just down the road from Save-a-Lot, for as long as funding remains available.
–Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County
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