Many of us who live in middle class or upper middle class neighborhoods with beautiful trees, parks nearby and easy access with our cars to a grocery store within blocks or just a few miles, don’t realize that some neighborhoods live in an urban desert—no place to buy food for your family except potato chips and other unhealthy food you may find at a gas station.
That’s about to change for the core Muskegon neighborhoods of Nelson, McLaughlin and Angell neighborhoods.
Last fall, Community encompass, a local nonprofit for the core city neighborhoods of Muskegon and whose mission is to empower neighbors and build community, received a USDA Community Foods Project Planning Grant to undertake a year-long community planning process for the development of a neighborhood Prescription for Health program in core city Muskegon — locally called MUSKEGON PRESCRIBES FOOD FOR HEALTH (MPFH).
The Muskegon program is based on Rx for Health, a national program that connects patients to their local fresh produce through their medical clinic. Health care providers write “prescriptions” for their patients to eat more fruit and vegetables, and patients redeem their prescriptions at the Farmer’s Market. The purpose is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and improve health among patients with lower income.
The project includes partnering with Hackley Community Care Center, Pathways Community Health Worker (CHW) Program through Mercy Health and McLaughlin Urban Farm (McGrows).
The physicians writing prescriptions for patients at Hackley Community Care will identify those patients most in need who can benefit from MUSKEGON PRESCRIBES FOOD FOR HEALTH. They will then refer those patients to the Pathways CHW Program, which connects with low-income clients with chronic disease or high-risk pregnancies and coordinates care for better health outcomes. The CHW program determines eligible clients and refers them to McGrow to be signed up for a workshop and classes through Michigan State University’s Extension’s Cooking Matters. The participants must agree to take a series of six classes, each offering one hour of nutrition and one hour of cooking lessons based on what is available that week from McGrow’s Farm. The classes will be held bi-weekly and offer incentives, including the prescription vouchers which will be redeemed at McGrow’s Farm on the weeks between classes. This will provide a total of 12 weeks of fresh food for participants. Clients will redeem their prescriptions there.
“It is an effort at integrating food and health,” said Marty Gerencer, Project lead for Muskegon Prescribes Food for Health. It is the point of fresh fruits and vegetables for the three neighborhoods;
“The average income of the core communities we are targeting is below the poverty level. And even though there may not be a lack of food, there is a lack of education about food—we want to change that. We want them to know there is a connection between good nutritious food and better health,’ said Patti Walker-Moran, Project coordinator and AmeriCorps Vista worker.
Still in the planning—and growing— process, the program officially begins August 15 with 24 participants and ends October 31. The larger plan is to launch a bigger program that will expand the number of participants.