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Doctors Write ‘Prescriptions’ For Healthy Fruits And Vegetables

A woman sampled veggies at a farmers market at Boston's City Hall Plaza on Aug. 4. (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources)

A woman sampled veggies at a farmers market at Boston's City Hall Plaza on Aug. 4. (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources)

BOSTON — A team of doctors and other health professionals in Massachusetts is trying to give a boost to healthy eating by writing “prescriptions” for free fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets.

The program hopes to spur families that normally can’t afford fresh produce to include fruits and vegetables as part of a healthier lifestyle, according to Dr. Shikha Anand, the program’s organizer.

“The goal really is to increase consumption,” Anand said. “To increase availability of fruits and vegetables in low income neighborhoods, and consumption of those within the low income neighborhoods. A lot of our families don’t really have the means to purchase fresh produce, so we’re really taking away the barriers to access.”

The initiative is part of a $20,000 pilot program at three Massachusetts health centers: the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center and the Holyoke Health Center.

The program is simple. At the clinics, families seeking to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet are given prescriptions in the form of vouchers they can exchange for fresh produce at local farmers’ markets.

With their vouchers, families can select from among products available at their local farmer’s market.

“There are over 200 sites and basically it works like cash,” Anand said. “But it can only be redeemed for fruits and vegetables, so it’s not just any item at a farmer’s market.”

Anand said many families need more than just the cash for good produce — they need guidance in integrating it into their diets. “We have a registered dietician who’s involved with the administration process at every site and they help the families sort out how to make the stuff that’s available at the farmer’s market,” Anand said.

Anand hopes the program will be a boon to families — and farmers, too.

“Our hope is that (the farmer’s markets) will see an increase in volume and that will help boost the local economy,” Anand said.

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