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Posted on Wed, Jun 1, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Prescription for Health makes access to fresh fruits and vegetables easier for those on a limited budget

By Washtenaw County Public Health

Rose*, an African American woman in her mid-50s, used to look out her apartment window and watch as shoppers bought fresh produce at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers’ Market directly across the street from her building.

As a diabetic, she knew that eating fruits and vegetables was important, but she never went to the market. She assumed that her very limited income wouldn’t allow her to shop there.

Things changed one day when Rose and her elderly mother attended their regular diabetes support group at a local medical clinic. A staff person told the group about a new program from Washtenaw County Public Health called “Prescription for Health,” which provided tokens to spend on fresh produce at the farmers’ market. She and her mother went to the market for the first time the next Tuesday.

When I visited the diabetes support group and met Rose for the first time, she had used all of her tokens but was still shopping at the farmers’ market. She had learned that shopping for locally-grown food in-season was often more economical than buying at the grocery store.

She also found out that she and her mother could use their Bridge Cards (Food Stamp cards) to buy produce and other food at the farmers’ market.

Perhaps most importantly, shopping at the market helped Rose and her mother better manage their diabetes and weight.

Thumbnail image for staffordj_prescrip for health logo

Rose’s story, combined with positive evaluation results from the program as a whole, inspired us to think big as we sought grant funding to continue the program — how many more patients could we reach? What other communities in Washtenaw County could benefit from this approach?

Thanks to a grant from the Kresge Foundation, this year Washtenaw County Public Health will offer the Prescription for Health program in more clinics and at an additional farmers’ market.

There will be two participating clinics in Ypsilanti (The Corner Health Center and Neighborhood Family Health Center) and three in Ann Arbor (Packard Health, Packard West and New Hope Outreach Clinic). Patients from the clinics will receive books of coupons to spend at either the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market or the Westside Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

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Find delicious produce at the farmers markets

In addition to the coupons to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables, patients will receive on-site nutrition education and support at each farmers’ market. A registered dietician funded by the grant will be available with recipes and individual nutrition advice for patients.

From our previous experience running this program, we know that low-income patients often struggle to follow medical advice that tells them to eat healthier — barriers such as cost, transportation, and lack of available healthy foods can prevent people from eating the foods they need.

To address this issue, Washtenaw County Public Health staff will also work with clinic staff to identify creative and effective ways of supporting their patients’ access to healthier foods. Beyond the farmers’ market, clinics will be informed about the grocery stores and smaller specialty markets that can provide healthy foods to their low income patients.

The ultimate goal of Prescription for Health is to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables among county residents who have difficulty accessing fresh food in our county. The bi-products aren’t bad, either — clinic staff learn new skills for supporting their patients’ good nutrition habits, and farmers markets gain new customers.

For more information about Prescription for Health, contact Jenna Bacolor at or 734-544-2969.

*Name changed to protect privacy.



Thu, Jun 7, 2012 : 2:50 a.m.

Do the hospitals like U of M, St. Joe's, and the VA offer this program to folks?


Thu, Jun 7, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

This year there are 5 health clinics involved in the program: Neighborhood Family Health Center (St. Joe); Packard Health; Hope Clinic; University of Michigan Chelsea Health Center and Grace Clinic at Faith in Action. Patients shop at two farmers' markets: Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers' Market and the Bushel Basket Farmers' Market in Chelsea. More health systems around the state and country are interested in trying this type of program -- there is a similar program in the Boston area and another one in California.

Steph B

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

What a fantastic program! There are so many people who have the right idea, but produce can be quite costly. Good for Washtenaw County for starting such a helpful, preventative program to help individuals help themselves. This is the kind of stuff I want to hear about in our news!


Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

I appreciate this initiative to provide tokens for a specific use and to encourage people with nutritional diseases or disorders to change their dietary habits. The Feeding Behavior is a complex behavior and some aspects could be changed by learning and by access to information about human nutrition. However, the Prescription for Health may not address the complex nature of brain mechanisms that direct and influence the feeding behavior. Apart from the physiology that involves the aspects of hunger and satiety, there are a few emotional aspects that contribute to excessive food intake and caloric consumption. It would be a good and reasonable nutritional advice and guidance to associate food with spirituality. The spiritual connection brings the emotional balance that provides the right kind of satiation experience provided by eating food.

Wendy Watson

Thu, Jun 2, 2011 : 3:39 p.m.

Great story. Good, valuable work!

Deborah Wood

Wed, Jun 1, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

This is such a smart, worthwhile program. I am thankful to be involved with them in their marketing and branding efforts. They are great people to work with and truly committed to making sure people in our community get the fresh fruit and vegetables that they need!