The ‘Farmacy Project’ is about produce, not pills

MIDDLEBURY — “Take 120 pounds of carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and apples, and I’ll see you in three months.”
It’s a pretty unconventional prescription for a physician to give to a patient, but 45 county residents will be given that kind of direction by their family doctors beginning next year as part of a new wellness program spearheaded by the local nonprofit “Acorn,” aka the Addison County Relocalization Network.
Known as the “Farmacy Project,” the program will contract with local, emerging farms for fresh fruit and veggies that will be distributed, free of charge, to a select group of patients culled from two Porter Medical Center practices — Addison Family Medicine and Pediatric Primary Care in Middlebury — along with the Mountain Health Center in Bristol.
Participating farms will supply the food in shares, akin to a Community Supported Agriculture model. Each weekly share will amount to 8-10 pounds per person during a 12-week Farmacy pilot project next summer.
But the program doesn’t end with bags of food.
Participants will be given a variety of support services to make sure they get maximum benefit from the fresh produce, aimed at turning the tide on health woes ranging from hypertension to diabetes. Those services will include:
•  Counseling provided through a variety of Porter dietitians, nurse case managers and referral specialists.
•  Cooking, menu preparation and nutrition advice through weekly sessions hosted by the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center. Officials from the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op and Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects will lend their expertise to the cooking/menu education effort.
“Our goal is to connect families in the Porter Medical Center and Mountain Health Center service areas, facing food insecurity and diet-related illness, with a health care provider’s prescription for a local farm share of fruits and vegetables, supplemented with nutrition and cooking education,” said Acorn Executive Director Lynn Coale.
Plans call for clients to pick up their Farmacy food shares at their local farmers’ market, Coale said.
Acorn will serve as fiscal agent and manager of the Farmacy program, and Vermont Department of Health officials will serve as an advisors and help measure the outcomes for participants.
The Rutland-based Vermont Farmers Food Center — which for more than three years has offered its own Farmacy plan — will give Acorn technical support and other help to make sure the program lays down strong roots in Addison County.
Coale anticipates a $25,000 budget to pilot Farmacy next summer. Acorn and Porter Medical Center have already promised $5,000 each. Organizers will spend the next several months raising the remaining $15,000 through grants and donations.
Coale and his colleagues want the program to become a permanent offering for area residents of limited resources who need to lose weight and consume healthier foods as part of an overall healthy living regimen. And they hope program “graduates” are inspired to turn over a new dietary leaf and continue to incorporate healthier foods into their respective menus.
Physicians from the three participating practices are using a common screening tool to flag patients who would most benefit from the Farmacy program, according to Coale. Addison Family Medicine and Pediatric Primary Care will provide a combined 30 Farmacy patients; Mountain Health will select the remaining 15.
It should be noted that Mountain Health Center already has experience in the “farm to patient” movement.
In 2014, the center began growing tomatoes, spinach, arugula, kale and other veggies in its own garden. The center opened the raised beds to physicians, patients and surrounding community members alike.
“The goal is to encourage patients to live as healthily as possible, starting with the cornerstone of health: food,” center officials state in a message on its website.
Along with offering primary care, the center offers free nutritional and dietary counseling.
Coale believes Farmacy will be as fruitful for farms as it will be for patients. Acorn will primarily target new, smaller farm operations to provide the food shares, thus giving them an economic boost that could grow over the years depending on how the program catches on. The 45 weekly shares could someday climb into the hundreds.
“It’s looking like a program that makes sense and that could be a win-win for everyone,” Coale said.
Ron Hallman, spokesman for Porter, agreed.
“We are excited to be collaborating with other community partners on this innovative program that clearly is aligned with our mission to improve the health of our community and supports our ongoing efforts to promote wellness and population health initiatives here in our community,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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