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Type 2 Diabetes is a growing problem nationwide, and particularly among low-income populations — the primary clientele at Crossing Healthcare, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Decatur.
Looking for a way to address the problem, Crossing dietitians Allison Raiha and Elizabeth Shuff came up with the idea of a prescription produce program for their diabetes patients.
With help from Good Samaritan Inn’s Mercy Gardens/Decatur Is Growing Gardeners program, Crossing started its own garden across the street from its health center on 320 Central Ave., and began its prescription produce program last year.
Using produce from that garden, as well as Good Samaritan’s Inn’s gardens and food purchased from the Central Illinois Foodbank, the first year 20 patients were hand-selected by Crossing staff based on their social determinants. Raiha said more than half lost weight and nearly half experienced lower blood sugar.
This year, the program was expanded and has 43 patients, with a goal to double that. In addition to the free produce, patients are also given recipes that match that week’s produce, which can include — among other things — tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce, zucchini, watermelon, strawberries and other fruits. Crossing also holds cooking demonstrations to show patients healthy ways to prepare the food.
“If you have someone in what’s known as a food desert, you have to start at the bottom and prescribe produce,” Crossing Healthcare Director Tanya Andricks said in 2016. “You have to address that need before you can ever address the diabetes.
“The trajectory for those people in the program has now changed. Over time, we’re hoping they stay healthier longer and have better outcomes with their diabetes and heart health.”