Thomasena Sanderlin, 51, spent a career in food service, first in the Army and then at East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta. But she really had her eyes opened when she began to explore the local organic food scene.
“I know cooking, but this is a whole different side of the house for me,” Sanderlin said Tuesday as she wandered among vendors at the Veggie Park Farmer’s Market. Hers will be among 50 families who will be enrolled in the Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program, where they will receive money to help them purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market, as well as receiving cooking classes and other nutritional information, and regular exams at a clinic at Harrisburg Family Healthcare.
Provided through the group GROW Harrisburg and funded by Wholesome Wave Georgia, the third annual program will provide $1 per day per family member to use at the farmer’s market on fresh food, and it has been shown to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. While there isn’t data yet to quantify health benefits – previous samples of those who completed the six-month program have been too small for data analysis – participants reported feeling healthier, said Dr. Chris Hines, a physician who sees enrollees in the clinic along with students from Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
Some participants who suffered from high blood pressure or were at risk of high blood pressure said they saw improvements. It is not hard to guess why, Hines said.
“There’s so much hidden salt in prepared foods that most people don’t even know” about, he said. “Learning to process and eat healthy fresh foods goes a long way toward lowering your total salt intake. What I usually tell people is the closer you can get to the farm, the better off you are.”
Sanderlin, who is on four different medications for high blood pressure, said she is looking forward to getting some relief by improving her diet.
“For me, this has been a godsend,” she said.
Donna Sue Nichols, 58, participated last year and said eating more fruits and vegetables, and drinking a lot more water and less soda, seemed to help with her chronic pain and overall health.
“It changed my digestion,” she said. “I had more energy.”
As a side bonus, with regular classes, it also helped her social life.
“I met so many people and one of them is now one of my dear friends,” she said.
The program might be even more important this year now that the Kroger grocery store on 15th Street, the closest one for many in the neighborhood, closed earlier this year. Nichols, who worked there for more than 28 years, said she thinks about all of the people, particularly the elderly, for whom she delivered groceries. And she wonders how they will get by now.
For many of them, “they have no family, no car,” Nichols said. “And clearly, in the summer, it is too hot to catch a bus.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org