MOUNT VERNON — This past August, the first small group of pre-diabetic patients — with the only other requirement being that they are treated at the Knox County Community Health Center — were invited to join the free Prescription Produce Program.
About a half-dozen of them worked with Health Center dietitians Lillian Collins and Tami Ruhl to learn about how eating more fresh fruits and vegetables could, along with engaging in healthy meal planning, substantially reduce their blood sugar. The Prescription Produce Program has allowed participants, through a Creating Healthy Communities grant, to receive vouchers each month which are redeemed at places like Yellowbird Food Shed in Mount Vernon, Baker’s IGA and the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market. A single participant could receive $30 in vouchers per month, only to be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, with a family allowed to receive up to $60 worth. The vouchers were in denominations of $1 or $5.
Participants also received recipes with quick-to-fix healthy snacks. Just a few were veggie pinwheels, which combined whole wheat tortillas topped with a mixture of tomato sauce and cream cheese along with a fresh vegetable of their choice — and on the dessert side of things, banana pudding in a bag. Capable of being made in under a minute, it combines a few fresh bananas, vanilla nonfat yogurt and unsweetened apple sauce, all mixed in a bag and then topped with low-fat granola.
The healthy snacks were often prepared at Opportunity Knox, which is close to the health center. Collins and Ruhl teamed up with Tanner Cooper-Risser, the county’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) educator, to show participants how easy and fast it could be to prepare something that was good for them.
The last of the monthly vouchers for participants run out in March. But Collins said the hope is to get a grant renewal and continue the program later in the spring. She considers its goals well worth it and also hopes the program can expand to help even more Knox County residents at risk for diabetes.
“The program really is about helping people who are pre-diabetic and have been diagnosed with pre-diabetic (illness),” she said.
Still another goal of the program is to help local farmers from the region to get more clients. That is accomplished by getting Prescription Produce Program participants to buy fresh produce not just from Baker’s IGA, but also from the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market when open part of the year, and from the Yellowbird Food Shed, which is open year-round.
A “food shed” is a geographic region that produces healthy food, such as fruits and vegetables, for a region. Yellowbird operates similarly to what is known as CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. In Yellowbird’s case, owner Benji Ballmer said more than 100 food growers within a 150-mile radius sell their produce to Yellowbird. Yellowbird in turn sells fresh food to customers ranging from one individual ordering one 25-pound box of fresh produce each week to schools in the Columbus area that buy bulk orders. Also sold is fresh goat or cow’s milk, minimally processed, as well as eggs and cheese from the Ballmer-owned farm.
Most Yellowbird Food Shed customers order and pick up their food, or have it delivered to them on a regular basis. But Ballmer said Yellowbird is happy to work with Prescription Produce Program participants who are trying to improve their lives by improving their dietary habits. He said an effort is made to provide quite a variety of produce, with those not commonly found in grocery stores such as Bosc pears, a French variety of pears with a hearty, rustic look, and a type of apple known as “Ever Crisp.”
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