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Boxes of Vegetables as Medicine? Advocates Work Toward Food Justice

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022   

Low-income families in the East Bay area may soon have easier access to fresh, locally grown produce thanks to an expansion of a state Medi-Cal program called Cal Aim starting in June.

A local nonprofit called Urban Tilth is working with the William Jenkins Health Center and Contra Costa Health Plan to bring the "medically tailored food plan" to the community.

Marco Lemus, food as medicine program coordinator with Urban Tilth, said if you increase access to healthy foods, you confront the region's top killers: heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

"Creating a system where people have affordable options and have food boxes delivered straight to their homes helps people avoid chronic diseases," Lemus explained. "And start it from a young age rather than waiting until people are already sick to try to give them care."

People can talk to their doctors about getting a referral to the program.

Lemus pointed out Urban Tilth's Veggie Rx program has been delivering weekly low-cost and free food boxes for years, but the need tripled during the pandemic.

"People tell them to make better choices, but they literally don't have that choice, especially our seniors, disabled folks, low-income people, people with no transportation," Lemus outlined. "A lot of the quality grocery stores are located far from where people live. And then we are plagued with liquor stores, poor quality food, smoke shops."

Urban Tilth is hoping to supercharge its efforts by participating in the School of Public Leadership, a six-month program run by the nonprofit HEAL Food Alliance.

Marla Larrave, political education director for the Alliance, said they help local advocates make a real difference.

"You can deepen these campaigns within your community, you can win policy change, you can influence decision-makers," Larrave contended.

In the central valley, previous graduates of the School of Political Leadership led the charge to get the pesticide chlorpyrifos banned at the state and federal levels.

Disclosure: The HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance contributes to our fund for reporting on Environment, Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice, and Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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