WVU Extension Service begins FARMacy programs to feed West Virginians

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Extension Service Family Nutrition Program (FNP) has kicked off its FARMacy programs, a produce prescription initiative.

Funding for the program is from a $658,000 Walmart Foundation grant, which will be used across 10 counties in West Virginia. Gina Wood, an FNP extension specialist, said they are working with small hospitals, clinics, and federally qualified health centers to recruit patients that have some form of chronic disease like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and also targeting those who are experiencing, on some level, food insecurity.

Gina Wood

We’re looking to connect those patients with fresh locally grown produce, which they can come and pick up on a weekly basis and the program lasts for 15 weeks. We’re giving each participant that enrolls $20 worth of locally grown produce every week for 15 weeks and looking at indicators on the evaluation side of things; looking at indicators that are clinical, so looking at things like weight, blood pressure, hemoglobin A1-C if they have diabetes, so looking for those measures over the 15 weeks, but also looking at other things. We’re looking at reductions in food insecurity that this program might be able to bring. We’re looking for increases in cooking skills, shopping on a budget because there is an education component as well, it’s not just the fresh produce. We’re also offering six weeks of nutrition education and cooking classes that would accompany the fresh produce. We’re looking at changes in diet quality and food resource management, so we’re looking at those types of things as well.

Gina Wood – Extension Specialist

Because all the fresh produce that will be used is locally grown, Wood said, they will also be assessing the impact on local farmers that participate in the program. The goal is to find community-wide benefits, not just benefits for the patients, she added.

The program has started in eight out of ten states and some of them are past their halfway points, in their eighth or ninth weeks. The ones marked below in bold have yet to begin:

  • Barbour
  • Boone
  • Cabell
  • Greenbrier
  • Lincoln
  • McDowell
  • Mercer
  • Mingo
  • Roane
  • Upshur

On average, Wood said, each site where patients can receive food is seeing 20 patients, making a significant impact on the local communities.

“I can’t even tell you how wonderful this is for West Virginia,” Wood said. “We have so many counties that have high rates of food insecurity and, of course, now with the global pandemic food insecurity is a greater issue. This program really couldn’t have come at a better time, we’re really grateful to the Walmart Foundation to be able to provide an opportunity like this to be able to reduce food insecurity in West Virginia. It’s really an honor and a privilege to be able to serve people in this way.”

The grant is for two years, Wood said, so everything that is learned in the initial year will be applied to the second in hopes of having a greater impact. Once the data from the first is collected FNP will start to show potential funders that their program does make a difference to the local farming community and well being of communities. The hope, she said, is sustainability and long term benefits well beyond the initial two years.

Wood said any successes of the program will not be solely because of FNP, but instead because of a collaborative effort. She said credit belongs to the clinics, patients, communities and the WVU School of Public Health. All FNP is doing is providing funding and educational resources, she noted.

“The School of Public Health has done a tremendous job,” Wood said. “This really is a tremendous — it’s a tremendous partnership opportunity.”

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