Eat your fruits and veggies

Jeff vonKaenel

Kaiser Permanente has a new wonder drug. Take it at any meal or on an empty stomach. It helps reduce weight and lower the risk of diabetes, heart attacks and numerous other diseases. It is very safe with no side effects. And what’s more, it even tastes great.

The name of this new medicine is the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program. Kaiser has started to prescribe the purchase of fruits and vegetables at farmers markets for young overweight patients. One of the places that Kaiser has been testing this program is Washington, D.C.

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., my good friend Gus Schumacher suggested that I meet him at his Georgetown house at 8 a.m. Saturday morning to go “farmers marketing.” This is sort of like clubbing, except instead of taking a taxi to various nightclubs, one takes a taxi to various farmers markets. I always enjoy hanging out with Gus. And I wanted to learn more about Kaiser’s Fruit and Vegetable Program.

Gus is a great guy. He went to Harvard College, worked at the World Bank, served as the undersecretary of agriculture for the United States Department of Agriculture, and now is the executive vice president of policy for Wholesome Wave. This organization has received support from Paul Newman’s Newman’s Own Foundation, which has an innovative program that enables food-stamp recipients to double their purchases at farmers markets. Wholesome Wave runs the Kaiser program in D.C.

Gus is one of the few working Americans who is actually older than I am. I am 61. He has twice the energy of most people half his age. We arrived early at our first farmers market, located in a low-income D.C. neighborhood. Gus knew one of the farmers, so we helped unload the trucks while talking to the farmers about sales. We learned that sales had been good, and soon, Gus and I were off for more farmers marketing.

Our next farmers market was in a gentrified part of D.C., next to a metro stop and a yuppie-hippie restaurant. Here, we spoke with the person who assisted the Kaiser patients. Patients receive a voucher that enables them to buy food at the farmers market. The Kaiser-Wholesome Wave worker was enthusiastic about the program and the results.

The data from the Kaiser study has been impressive. Providing each member of the family with a weekly $7 farmers-market prescription has led to significant improvements in body-mass index. When I spoke with the farmers at this market, they were also very happy with the Kaiser program: It led to more sales.

Although I do not expect “farmers marketing” to replace clubbing anytime soon, I would be happy to see thousands of Americans bringing their “fruit-and-vegetable prescriptions” to local farmers markets. And why not? I’m all for a medicine that keeps us healthy and tastes great.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.