A program to make fresh produce accessible to low-income diabetes patients

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At a time of escalating medical costs, a new effort aims to help low-income diabetes patients in Suffolk County better control this chronic health condition.

Now, healthcare providers, local produce suppliers, nutritionists and educators are partnering to help patients access fresh fruits and vegetables and learn how to address diabetes through educational workshops and food vouchers.

As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commitment to the Biden-Harris National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the Community Education program at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE Suffolk) will receive more than $420,000 to support the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program addressing diabetes in Suffolk County.

“CCE Suffolk is always working to expand our programming, making Suffolk County a better place to live and work,” Christina Nadolne, program manager of CCE Suffolk’s Fruit & Veggie Prescription program, said in a statement.

“With this federal funding, we can bridge the gap among Suffolk County farms, local healthcare providers, and the people that really can use the programs,” Nadolne added. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are things that many Long Islanders take for granted, but this program allows even more people to make healthier choices.”

The program launched on March 24 at the Sun River Health Center in Brentwood.

The effort comes at a time when the diabetes rate in Suffolk is at 10.1%, affecting more than 150,000 according to the New York State Department of Health. Statewide, an estimated 1.7 million New Yorkers grapple with diabetes.

But by focusing on health foods, people can control their blood sugar, manage weight and even control heart disease risks that include high blood pressure and high blood fats, according to The Mayo Clinic.

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The funds come as part of the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, a national USDA grant program that brings together stakeholders from various parts of the food and healthcare systems. The program is named for the late Gus Schumacher, a USDA official who was a founder of Bridgeport, CT-based Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization that helps underserved consumers make healthier food choices by increasing affordable access to healthy, locally and regionally grown foods.

The Fruit & Veggie Prescription program offers Nutrition Workshops for low-income diabetes patients at the Sun River Health Center. The workshops are led by a CCE Suffolk Nutrition Educator. After learning the importance of healthy eating, participants receive vouchers for free, locally grown vegetables and fruits, redeemable at two Brentwood locations: the family-owned Gala Foods supermarket at 1925 Brentwood Road and the 20-acre Thera Farms in Brentwood. Vouchers may also be used for the purchase of selected canned and frozen products.

Each individual receives a $20 voucher for each nutrition workshop they attend. If a patient attends all twelve workshops, they will earn a total of $240 in vouchers. The program expects to distribute more than $100,000 in vouchers overall. Sun River Health Center healthcare providers will also monitor patients before and after the program to compare data.

At its outset, the program will focus on the community of Brentwood. CCE Suffolk hopes to expand it to other high-need areas of Suffolk County in the future.

Since 1926, CCE Suffolk Community Educators have worked in partnership with the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University to translate research-based information into practical and useful educational resources for Suffolk County residents. They work to educate, empower, and support lifestyle changes through an array of educational resources, both digital and hands on.

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“Supporting those with diabetes in Suffolk County has been a core function of CCE Suffolk for decades, and we’re always working to expand this area of our Community Education program,” Vanessa Lockel, executive director of CCE Suffolk, said in a statement.

“The Fruit & Veggie Prescription program will be an excellent way to make sure these resources are being made readily available to vulnerable community members,” she added.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county has worked with CCE Suffolk on a number of initiatives.

“Our newest joint effort, the Fruit & Veggie Prescription program, is certain to help improve the health of our county residents,” he said in a statement.

To learn more about CCE Suffolk’s Community Education program, visit https://ccesuffolk.org/community-education.

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