VeggieRx: How an urban farm is transforming medical care in Chicago

Posted by Sandra MacMartin, Public Affairs Specialist, Midwest Regional Office with guest author Wayne M. Detmer, MD Clinical Director, Lawndale Christian Health Center in Food and Nutrition Nutrition Security

June 15, 2022

I am Dr. Wayne M. Detmer and I work at Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC) on the west side of Chicago. Like many neighborhoods across the country, members of our community experience significant disparities in health outcomes. We have grown in our recognition that excellence in the exam room has its limits, and that to see real change, we need to think outside the walls of the exam room.

In the summer of 2010, I noticed a small urban farm in our community that was operated by the Chicago Botanical Garden. Within months, our two organizations began to partner, and together we built a beautiful community center with an indoor aquaponics operation, a retail store that offered locally grown produce at affordable prices, and job training opportunities. for people who were previously incarcerated.

Equally exciting, we have partnered with the Garden’s Windy City Harvest Team (WCH) on a USDA to agree to launch VeggieRx. Through the program, any of our 100 medical providers can write prescriptions for boxes of locally grown vegetables, which are picked up weekly by participants. The program also includes nutrition counseling and cooking demonstrations.

We launched the program in the summer of 2016, serving 175 participants, with produce from WCH’s local farms and their Farm Incubator Program (supported by USDA Beginning Farmer and Pastoralist Development Program). The program has grown to serve 1,621 community members each year and has distributed over 80,000 pounds of locally grown produce. The program is now sold out Farm on Ogden food center and fresh market.

VeggieRx has gained local and national attention as a model for local producers and community health centers to partner and improve access to healthy, affordable products. In December 2021, Adeline Daab, Chicago Public School Student was selected as the winner of the New York Times Student Podcast Contest for her story on VeggieRx.

As VeggieRx flourishes in Chicago’s community health centers, we hope programs inspired by it will sprout in health centers across America.

Ogden Farm at night
Food and nutrition Nutrition security

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