Imagine this: You go to the doctor. You're a little overweight, your blood pressure's a little high, your blood sugar isn't quite where they'd like to see it. They tell you to eat better, to get more exercise, to quit smoking—the usual. But then, instead of just sending you packing, they hand you money—$125 in vouchers to buy fruits and vegetables at your local farmers market.
This isn't just imaginary—it's real. It's called Fruit and Veggie R/x, and it's going on at health centers and farmers markets in Holyoke, Lawrence, and Boston, Massachusetts; and Portland and Skowhegan, Maine. It's a program of Wholesome Wave—a non-profit dedicated to increasing access to healthy local foods for low-income and rural populations—and it's getting help financially from CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited) and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. I found out about it through Gus Schumacher, the Executive Chairman of Wholesome Wave, who spends his summers in Orleans and is a frequent shopper at the Orleans Farmers' Market.
Schumacher has quite a resume—he worked as Massachusetts Commissioner of Food and Agriculture in the 1980s and Under Secretary of Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service with USDA in the 1990s—and he's always had the same goal. He wants to make families healthier. Back then, he did that by working to help develop the Women, Infants, and Children and Seniors Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs (click on over here for more local information). Today, he's doing it by trying to show the government that fruit and veggie prescriptions can have a measurable impact on health, and with any luck, getting Congress to consider funding the program as a preventative healthcare initiative under the new health bill.
In the long run, as Schumacher likes to point out, fruits and veggies are far less expensive than doctors visits and drugs. The program is still very much in its pilot stages—it just got started this summer—but pretty soon, Schumacher is hoping to start seeing results. Then, the goal is to get a peer-reviewed article written documenting what the doctors have found.
If it seems basic—well, it is. But maybe simple and straightforward is what we need to start making changes, and putting fresh, healthy food back on the table. It isn't going on the Cape yet, but there's a clinic in Eastham Schumacher's interested in, if he can get enough funding to expand. Let's hope!
You can find out more about the Fruit and Veggie R/x program over here, and more about other Wholesome Wave projects over here. Scan and photograph are courtesy of Gus Schumacher.