Christina Houston, a staff member of Blue Mountain Academy, arranges produce to be sold at the farm stand at Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Campus. Image: Penn State Health
The Veggie Rx program is a social entrepreneurship venture run with help from Lisa Weaver, Social Entrepreneurship Specialist at the Berks LaunchBox. Back in 2018, the United Way of Berks County helped Lisa, and a team of clinicians from Penn State Health St. Joseph and students from Penn State Berks launch a pilot program where patients with chronic obesity and diabetes were offered vouchers as a way to improve their access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
For seven months, the researchers followed participants who were at least 18 years old with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes that met certain clinical criteria. Doctors gave participants vouchers that could be redeemed for produce from certain vendors at three farmers markets in downtown Reading — one at the Farm Stand at the Downtown Campus, another at the Penn Street Market and the last at the Boscov’s Fairgrounds Farmers Market.
The participants — a significant portion of them Hispanic and Latino — received an initial set of produce vouchers – valued at two dollars each – and received more when they showed up for diabetes self-management education sessions. The classes, led by a dietitian and translated into Spanish by a community health worker, covered topics ranging from food preparation and nutrition to physical exercise.
This unique partnership focuses on Penn State Health St. Joseph Downtown Campus and is now known as the Veggie Rx program.
“Community members who seek care at our downtown campus may not have easy access to produce for one reason or another,” Weaver said. “Our goal is to provide patients with resources to find nutrition that might help them live a healthier life, and ultimately lead to improved health outcomes and decreased health care costs.”
Learn more about how this program balances food as medicine plus education to increase healthy choices in downtown Reading.