Prescribing Produce to 500+ LA Families
66 million Americans can’t afford to put healthy food on their tables, and 30 million Americans live in “food deserts” without access to fresh fruits and vegetables. These populations experience increased risk of chronic lifestyle-related conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Access to affordable produce is the greatest barrier for lower income people to increase their fruit and vegetable intake.
Target, the 6th largest national retailer in the US, was poised to utilize business operations to drive the health and wellness of their guests.
What We Did
Launched in June through an $800,000 grant from Target and a partnership with the Eisner Pediatric & Family Medical Center, our LA Produce Prescription Program provided 544 low-income patients—who are an average age of 8—with prescriptions their families could redeem for free produce at Target stores and farmers markets operated by Sustainable Economic Enterprises of LA (SEE-LA). The families of high need patients also participated in intensive nutrition education classes offered by local non-profit, Groceryships, for 20 weeks at no cost. Wholesome Wave has been piloting and perfecting produce prescription programs since 2008 and this was the largest FVRx® program yet.
Nelson Samayoa, caseworker at the clinic, explained: “The simple fact is that fruits & vegetables can be pricey, and most of our families cannot afford that. Now, with this program they can get fruits & vegetables and don’t have to worry, ‘oh my God, if I get this I wont have money to pay my bills.’ A lot of parents are telling me, ‘Oh my gosh, this program is actually helping my kids a lot.’”
Paula, a single mom enrolled in the program, said grocery money was tight: “Budgeting, it’s very hard to be honest,” she explained. “Before, it was really hard for me to even get [my son] to eat anything healthy. But going to fast food and buying a burger for a dollar, in the long run, it’s just gonna mess up our health. When the doctor told me that I had prediabetes, I [thought], ‘I really have to get healthy. I don’t want to die because I don’t eat healthy. I want to be able to live longer, for my son to see me when I get old. And I want to see him grow up.’”
Her eyes lit up when she raves about the produce prescription program, saying that she and her son were able to eat lots of cucumbers, strawberries, jicama, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, carrots and her new favorite, Brussels sprouts, thanks to the program. All of which meant extra income for area agriculture. At a nearby weekly market, farmers took in an additional $70,000 through this program, in just a few months. They’re making more money by selling more produce to the customers who need it most.
To participate, patient families had to earn less that $39,248 for a household of 5. Eisner was a partner well-suited for the program. Of all the clinic’s patients, more than 98% are below 150% of the poverty level, approximately 82% are Latino, and 34% are age 12 or younger. Prior to enrollment, most patients weren’t eating even half the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Eisner’s pediatricians say urging parents to feed more produce can be futile—if they can’t afford it, their kids can’t eat it.
“It’s amazing,” said Nelson, the caseworker, “the numbers of stories that we’ve been getting from our parents about their kids. Our families cannot believe what they’re getting. They tell me, ‘Before it was difficult to have the kids eat fruits and vegetables, and now they’re like ‘Mom what are we having for dinner?’ It’s really making a big difference.”
“Helping Americans struggling with poverty is something the private sector needs to take on full-force,” said Michel Nischan, our Founder & CEO. “Our partnership with Target, coupled with our partnership with over 700 farmers markets across the country, will do just that. There’s no better way to express the spirit of our great country than through feeding those who are falling on hard times by helping consumers put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table.”
“Together, we will help remove barriers to wellness in our communities, working to increase the consumption of nutrient-dense food and physical activity of kids and families across the country,” said Laysha Ward, chief corporate social responsibility officer, Target.
Target went beyond the role of funder by also acting as a location for patients to redeem their fruit and vegetable prescriptions, resulting in:
- 10 hour per day, 7-day per week access to healthy food for enrolled patients
- Doctors “prescribing” financial incentives for their most in-need patients to act on the medical advice they receive
- Target driving sales, and becoming a partner in health to the surrounding community.
Wholesome Wave and Target’s pilot LA FVRx program proved that this partnership model works! In LA, we reached over 500 pediatric patients who spent over $270,000 on fruits and vegetables (over $140,000 at Target) with nearly 60% of parents reporting improvements in their children’s’ health over the 6 months of the program. This closed-loop program also drove brand loyalty, positive social responsibility, customer acquisition, and new revenue streams for Target. Recently the program was named one of Fast Company's 2017 World-Changing Ideas, and received the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Health Means Business Partnership of the Year award.