WETZEL COUNTY, W.Va. — For the next 20 weeks, 25 Wetzel County residents will be eating more produce in an attempt to get healthier.
They’re signing on for the first year of the FARMacy Program in Wetzel County, a project from Wheeling Health Right, Food Justice Lab WVU and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture which launches Friday at Wetzel County Hospital in New Martinsville.
“The whole program’s operated under the premise that food is medicine,” explained Holly Giovinazzo, Wetzel County FARMacy manager.
“And that these patients, who most of which have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can better manage their chronic diseases by using a healthy diet to improve their own health.
Much of Wetzel County is considered a “food desert.”
In many cases for residents, “The only access they have to food in their local area without traveling 25, 30 minutes is a convenience store,” Giovinazzo told MetroNews.
“You’re not going to get tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers (there). You’re going to get a bag of Doritos.”
With help from grant funding via the nonprofit Wheeling Health Right, participation comes with no costs for patients.
Each week, participants will receive a bag of produce containing seven to ten items from five farms located in both Tyler County and Wetzel County: The Garden Path, Sycamore Creek Farm, Creekside Farm, Hilltop Farm and Jennings Brae Bank Farm.
This Friday, the first bags of produce will include head lettuce, green onions, bok choy, sugar snap peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach and strawberries with additional choices of either kale and swiss chard or turnips and kohlrabi.
Along with the produce, Giovinazzo is planning to provide educational information about the produce including health benefits while WVU extension agents demonstrate ways to prepare the produce for meals.
Patients will take initial health tests on Friday.
Over the next five months, they’ll be working toward individual goals for bringing down weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose levels.
The FARMacy Program started in Wheeling in 2016.
Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia commissioner of agriculture, called it a “win-win” for West Virginia, a state which has some of the highest rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in the entire U.S.
“FARMacy helps address rising healthcare costs while decreasing the number of medicines being prescribed, as well as provides more opportunities to local farmers,” he said in a statement.