LOS ANGELES – What do local farmers, low-income Latino families, and area pediatricians have in common? They are all raving about our Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program.
Launched here in June through an $800,000 grant from Target and a partnership with the Eisner Pediatric & Family Medical Center, this program provides 544 low-income patients—who are an average age of 8—with prescriptions their families can redeem for free produce at farmers markets and Target stores.
Nelson Samayoa, caseworker at the clinic, explains: “The simple fact is that fruits & vegetables can be pricey, and most of our families cannot afford that. Now, with this program they can get fruits & vegetables and don’t have to worry, ‘oh my God, if I get this I wont have money to pay my bills.’ A lot of parents are telling me, ‘Oh my gosh, this program is actually helping my kids a lot.’”
Paola, a single mom enrolled in the program, says grocery money is tight: “Budgeting, it’s very hard to be honest,” she explains. “Before, it was really hard for me to even get [my son] to eat anything healthy. But going to fast food and buying a burger for a dollar, in the long run, it’s just gonna mess up our health. When the doctor told me that I had prediabetes, I [thought], ‘I really have to get healthy. I don’t want to die because I don’t eat healthy. I want to be able to live longer, for my son to see me when I get old. And I want to see him grow up.’”
Her eyes light up when she raves about the produce prescription program, saying that now she and her son are eating lots of cucumbers, strawberries, jicama, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, carrots and her new favorite: Brussels sprouts. All of which means extra income for area agriculture. At a nearby weekly market, farmers have taken in an additional $70,000 through this program, in just a few months. They’re making more money by selling more produce to the customers who need it most.
To participate, patient families must earn less that $39,248 for a household of 5. Prior to enrollment, most weren’t eating even half the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Eisner’s pediatricians say urging parents to feed more produce can be futile—if they can’t afford it, their kids can’t eat it.
“It’s amazing,” says Nelson, the caseworker, “the numbers of stories that we’ve been getting from our parents about their kids. Our families cannot believe what they’re getting. They tell me, ‘Before it was difficult to have the kids eat fruits and vegetables, and now they’re like ‘Mom what are we having for dinner?’ It’s really making a big difference.”
Photos by Mpu Dinani/A-Game Photography