Low-income folks can get farm-fresh vegetables with 'perscriptions' from three local clinics

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Dawna Burnett from Gresham shows some romaine lettuce she picked out at a recent visit to the vegetable pharmacy. Dawna Burnett, a Gresham resident who describes herself as "very low income," shows off a luscious head of romaine lettuce she just picked out at a mini-farmers market as a result of a "prescription" her doctor wrote for her at her last checkup.

Burnett and 59 other area residents are part of a program called CSA Partnerships for Health, which recently expanded to three Rockwood medical clinics. CSA, which stands for community supported agriculture, has become a popular way for people of all incomes to get weekly baskets of locally grown produce.

Burnett's CSA program is a partnership between local health care providers, area farms and sponsors that allows low-income people to get farm-fresh produce at subsidized prices to improve their diets and health.

"All these veggies are so wonderful," Burnett said. "I love it."

She adds that "there is no way" she could enjoy this produce without the subsidized program. "Vegetables are so expensive. I wouldn't be eating these veggies otherwise."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - The CSA Partnerships for Health Program offers low-income people a prescription for weekly selections of farm-fresh vegetables at subsidized prices. Burnett was enjoying herself at a kickoff celebration Thursday, June 21, with food samples, speakers and games.

Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann said at the launch party that the Rockwood Zip code has "long been recognized as a food desert. People here have fewer options to access fresh, healthy food."

The area also has many low-income residents.

"This Zip code is recognized as the most unhealthy Zip code in all of Oregon," Stegmann said, adding that the new CSA program will help alleviate these challenges for some people.

Dr. James Tan, a Kaiser Permanente vice president and family practice physician, said at the kickoff that Kaiser hopes to keep spreading the idea "of food as medicine."

Beginning earlier in June, Zenger Farm, 11741 S.E. Foster Road, and Full Cellar Farm, 28600 S.E. Orient Drive, started bringing fresh vegetables to Rockwood for the CSA program. They set up a mini-farmer's market for community members pre-qualified by their health care providers.

These folks can select the vegetables they want, chat with the farmers, even pick up recipes in both Spanish and English.

There will also be monthly cooking demonstrations. Bob's Red Mill also provides a healthy whole-grain product such as brown rice or oatmeal for the clients.

The program initially is serving 60 area clients: 20 pediatric Kaiser Permanente patients, 20 Wallace Medical Concern patients and 20 people from Multnomah County Health Department's Rockwood Health Center. The program runs through the local growing season, roughly June through November.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Florence Baldwin said some of the vegetables shes getting are not familiar to her, but will figure out how to cook them. Her daughter Dorinda Baldwin drove her to the event. Thanks to a subsidy provided by Kaiser Permanente, the patients and their families have to fork over a "co-pay" of just $5 per week to cover part of the food cost. They also can use a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit to pay for their share. The market price for a similar weekly CSA basket can cost 10 times that much.

The CSA Partners for Health program started four years ago and has spread to several areas around Portland. It now serves 251 households through nine clinics.

The goal of the program is to improve healthy food access and reduce disease. Eating more vegetables and fruits can help reduce the chance of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer and other conditions.

Preliminary results from the program show an increase in produce consumption and improvements in social isolation.

One participant who has been with the CSA program in another area for the entire four years said she has not only lost weight, but feels the Zenger Farm employees are like family.

"I look forward to seeing them every year," she said.

Florence Baldwin, a Gresham resident who has just started with the Rockwood program, said "I think it's great. I couldn't afford this kind of food" without the CSA program.

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