From WVU Today
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Imagine going for a checkup and receiving some not-so-great news—but instead of your physician adding another pill to add to your morning routine, she hands you a slip of paper that reads:
“One heaping bag of farm-grown fruits and vegetables. Take daily.”
That’s exactly how things work at the FARMacy, an initiative by WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program that aims to help people living with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and other chronic conditions by providing them with healthy, fresh foods.
FARMacy participants don’t just get fresh fruits and vegetables — they get a team to help them on their way toward better health. FNP nutrition educators organize physical fitness challenges, provide taste tests of healthy recipes and sign up participants for “Eating Smart Being Active” classes that teach cooking skills, budget shopping strategies and exercise habits. The farmers who grow the food also show up to answer participants’ questions and to help them put a face with their food.
“The FARMacy program has been changing people’s lives for years. Now, the Walmart Foundation is helping us take this tried-and-true program to more West Virginians than ever before,” said Gina Wood, FNP specialist and West Virginia Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program program coordinator.
Samantha Farson joined the Sistersville program in 2019 and is one of the program’s success stories. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2013, Farson had difficulty controlling the disease. Her doctors tried medicine after medicine, but her body did not respond.
The fruits and vegetables — along with the healthy cooking techniques and exercise habits she picked up from the “Eating Smart, Being Active” classes — have changed her way of life, which has had a dramatic effect on her health. Just halfway through the 2019 program, Farson’s A1C dropped to 7 percent. If her numbers continue to improve, she might be able to stop her insulin shots altogether.
Farson said in addition to providing healthy foods, FARMacy has also given her more confidence at the grocery store.
“If you buy something and you don’t like it, that could be a significant portion of your money that’s just gone now. So, you end up sticking to things you’ve tried and you know you like,” she said. “When you limit yourself to that little bit, there’s a lot of the nutrients you just don’t get.”
Dumars said she now regularly sees FARMacy participants at the local farmers market.
“There’s nothing better than spending all your blood, sweat and tears growing something and seeing somebody really enjoy and appreciate it,” she said. “If it gets them healthier on top of that, that’s an even better bonus.”
Farson is getting in on the act now. With some help from Dumars, she’s growing stevia seedlings that she plans to give to farmers, so future FARMacy participants have a fresh, locally grown alternative to sugar. She’s also telling anyone who will listen about the FARMacy program.
“When you take people and show them just how good this stuff is, and the impact it’ll have, it’s very easy to change,” she said.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced the program to make some temporary changes for 2020. All FARMacy staff wear masks and participants pick up pre-packed boxes of farm-fresh food.
WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program’s work is supported by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
The original FARMacy program started in 2014 at a clinic in Wheeling. Nine FARMacy programs now operate at hospitals and clinics around West Virginia. Eight of those are new for 2020, funded by a $658,000 Walmart Foundation grant that is helping FNP expand its programming to 10 West Virginia counties — Barbour, Boone, Cabell, Greenbrier, Lincoln, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Roane and Upshur.