I’m Dr. Wayne M. Detmer, and I work at Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC) on Chicago’s west side. Like many neighborhoods around the country, our community members experience significant disparities in health outcomes. We’ve grown in our recognition that excellence in the exam room has its limits, and that to see real change, we need to think outside of exam room walls.
In the summer of 2010, I noticed a small urban farm right in our community that was operated by the Chicago Botanic Garden. Within a few months, our two organizations began to partner, and together, we built a beautiful community center with an indoor aquaponic operation, a retail store that offered locally grown produce at affordable prices, and job training opportunities for people who were previously incarcerated.
Equally exciting, we partnered with the Garden’s Windy City Harvest Team (WCH) on a USDA grant to launch VeggieRx. Through the program, any of our 100 medical providers can write prescriptions for boxes of locally grown vegetables, which are picked up each week by participants. The program also includes nutrition counseling and cooking demonstrations.
We launched the program in the summer of 2016, serving 175 participants, with produce from local WCH farms and their farm incubator program (supported by USDA’s Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program). The program has grown to serve 1,621 community members annually and has distributed over 80,000 pounds of locally grown produce. The program is now run out of the Farm on Ogden food hub and fresh market.
VeggieRx has achieved local and national attention as a model for local growers and community health centers to partner and improve access to healthy, affordable produce. In December 2021, Chicago Public Schools student Adeline Daab was selected as the winner of The New York Times’ student podcast contest for her story on VeggieRx.
As VeggieRx blooms in community health centers across Chicago, we hope that programs modeled after it will sprout in health centers across America.