Program aims to improve eating habits by prescribing patients fruits and vegetables

Published: Jun. 27, 2020 at 4:58 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - An apple a day keeps the doctor away, as the saying goes.

That's why Aspirus is helping get fresh fruits and vegetables to patients who need it by giving them a "prescription" they can redeem for free healthy food from their local farmer's market. Each prescription is worth $20 and given out to patients who could benefit from access to healthy local food.

“There’s nothing better than everyone having good, healthy food, it only improves health outcomes,” said Kat Becker, owner and farmer at Cattail Organics, who runs a stand at the Bull Falls Farm Market in Wausau, one of the participating markets.

Becker loves engaging customers in learning more about their food.

“I know what they like and they don’t like, and I tell them how to cook beet greens if they’ve never cooked beet greens. A lot of people would never buy certain vegetables at a grocery store, cause they don’t know how to use them. They might not have the relationship to be able to ask a staff member at a grocery store, ‘How do I prepare kale?’”

She is happy to be there for her customers as they cook her food for the first time.

“Those relationships go beyond the prescription. I always tell people, ‘I am your farmer.’ If you want to text me at 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and be like, ‘I started cooking the kale, how long should I leave it in?’ Do that, because it brings me so much joy that people will be able to enjoy that,” she said.

Money for the program comes from Aspirus’ community benefit fund. Doctors and nurses at Aspirus like RN Lacey Welke see the improvement in patients’ health.

"Weight loss, it can improve blood pressure, there's multiple areas of your health that eating fresh fruits and vegetables can make a huge impact," Welke said.

They hope dietary changes last long after summer growing season and become part of people’s go-to choices.

“Some of those people who have learned about some of those new options that are available and how to use them, and they’ve been able to then broaden their awareness of what the different options are. Some of the participants in the program last year had noted that with their interactions with local growers, using some ingredients or some vegetables that they hadn’t had before,” she said.

Becker says once people try local fruits and vegetables, they tend to prefer them.

"I hear from people like, 'I've never liked beets, but I love your beets.' And I'm like, 'Well, mostly it's how you're preparing them, but also obviously fresh and local food does taste better," she said.

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