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Veggie Drops program brings fresh produce to M Health Fairview’s local primary care clinics

Food insecurity is one of the key social determinants of health. M Health Fairview clinics in North Branch and Rush City have launched a new program to improve local access to healthy food.

Fresh, healthy food is a cornerstone of good health. But in some parts of Minnesota, getting fresh, nutrient-rich food can be challenging.

To address food insecurity and improve local access to healthy food, M Health Fairview Clinic - Rush City and M Health Fairview Clinic - North Branch launched an extension of our Veggie Rx program called “Veggie Drops.”

The grant-funded Veggie Drops effort is the result of a partnership with Women’s Environmental Institute, based in North Branch, and local farmers. The premise is simple: Every two weeks, crates of fresh fruits and vegetables are delivered to the clinics for anyone who needs them. There is no need to sign up or give a name in order to get the produce, but people can fill out a form if they would like to be contacted about additional support or food resources.

Veggie Drops have everything from apples to kale, and from lemons to microgreens. The program also provides recipe ideas and education so that participants know how to make the most of the veggies they receive.

“The program started in the fall of 2019, and it was really well received right away,” said M Health Fairview Community Health and Wellbeing Strategist Therese Genis. After it has been delivered to the clinics, the produce is often gone within hours. To keep program participants, as well as clinic staff and patients, safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program shifted to a drive-by, grab-and-go-style format.

“There is lots of gratitude from the community. This program has such a positive effect on participants’ mental health, and overall health, because food is so tied into everything,” said Michelle Engels, LSW, a licensed social worker with M Health Fairview’s clinic care coordination program.

Food insecurity is one of the key social determinants of health, and lack of access to healthy food can affect a person’s nutrition and overall wellness. But the program not only helps community members in need – it also helps local farmers.

“Especially now with the pandemic, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is so needed in the community,” Genis said. “The farmers are happy to have the consistent income, when restaurants are down, and farmers markets are restricted. It feels really good from a community health standpoint to be able to support the patients and farmers by building up the health of our local food ecosystem.”