An overflowing basket of fruits and vegetables.

Food as Medicine: How a Prescription for Produce Changed One Woman’s Life

Jackie Nees can’t wait for the Downtown Houghton Farmers Market to open up this season.

Prior to last year, the market really wasn’t a place she visited, but a prescription from her doctor changed that.

Through a program called Prescription for Health, which was originally conceived by the Washtenaw County Health Department and has spread to different communities, Nees was prescribed fresh fruits and vegetables. She filled her prescription at the farmers market every week and grew to really enjoy the experience.

“I would try something and it just really became exciting because I was trying something new every day,” Nees said.

Her doctor, Michelle Seguin, M.D., is a family medicine physician at the Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center. She worked with the Portage Health Foundation to establish the Prescription for Health initiative in the U.P. Funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation is helping her analyze data she collected from a 2017 10-week pilot program, in which Nees participated. Read more about that here.

Nees said while she knew eating more fruits and vegetables was good for her, actually being prescribed it by her doctor made it feel more like something she had to do, rather than a helpful suggestion. She faithfully went to the market every week, oftentimes bringing her 13-year-old daughter and mom. The trips got the family outside and provided a new bonding experience.

Photo of Jackie Nees and her daughter, Taylor.

Jackie Nees and her daughter, Taylor.

Her daughter’s eating habits naturally changed, Nees said. She became much more interested in eating the fruits and vegetables she had picked out, making smoothies and selecting carrots as snacks over chips. Nees remembers a lunch with her mom where the two women were surprised to discover how satisfying a simple plate of sautéed veggies could be.

“It was really enjoyable and it really got us all in the mindset of eating healthier,” she said.

Throughout the program, Nees lost 17 pounds. She said she felt like she had more energy and making good eating choices led to other healthy decisions like exercising and moving more. This winter, Nees noticed less energy as she wasn’t getting as much fresh produce and she’s really looking forward to getting back to better habits.

She set goals each week with a community health worker hired through the program. One of those goals was to spend all her tokens every week. She said that was important because she really wanted to honor the gift she’d been given by not letting it go to waste. She also really enjoyed supporting the local farmers and growers who showed up to the market each week.

“By doing that, I was committed to getting a variety of produce every week and using it in my home,” Nees said.

An energy healer by trade, Nees said the program helped her be a better role model for her clients, who she tries to help live more vibrant, happy, healthy lives. She encourages everyone with access to a prescription produce program to take advantage of it.

Read earlier posts about the concept of prescription produce programs, statewide efforts to expand access to farmers markets, and specific programs supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

Photo credit: dailyfood

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