As a small-town grocery store and one of a limited number of food retailers in Paoli, IN, Lost River Market and Deli lived through this difficult scenario. The store had always sourced locally grown food, but the pandemic gave them a reason to recommit to that mission. Lost River Market’s Healthy Initiatives Coordinator Brandon Query Bey noted, “we saw the fragility of the global food system firsthand, not being able to get orders, so we are creating a safety net on the chance that something like that would happen again.” Working with the Center for Rural Engagement, the store developed stronger relationships with local farmers and increased their local purchasing by 800 percent.
In addition to sourcing more locally grown food, Lost River also took advantage of the community’s growing appreciation for local food by launching a food as medicine program in collaboration with IU and Southern Indiana Community Health Care to help people cook using whole, local, fresh foods.
The Southern Indiana Farm to Health initiative is part of a growing national trend to explore the effectiveness of food-as-medicine approaches to eating more vegetables and fruit as a way to reduce chronic disease. Reviews of research evidence indicate that food-as-medicine programs can be as effective as certain major classes of pharmaceuticals, such as statins and glucose medications, and would be cost effective for medical insurance to cover.
The initiative supported the launch of the Lost River Local program: an educational, locally grown version of Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. Every week for three months, participants learned to cook a recipe made from a free box of whole foods, many of them local. Participants also received weekly nutrition and cooking lessons through the Cooking Matters curriculum. Since up to half of the participants were food insecure or low-income, they also received staple kitchen tools and supplies to make it more feasible to cook at home such as oils, spices, knives, cutting boards, and pots.
Our preliminary analysis of data from the Lost River Local Nutrition Box program suggests that, compared to a similar group of their peers who were not part of the program, the 30 participants showed improvement in such positive outcomes as:
- Confidence in helping their families to eat healthy
- More days with good mental health and ability to perform regular activities (such as work, recreation, and self-care)
- Making health-conscious adjustments to meals (such as baking instead of frying)
- Eating fruit, salad, whole grains, and low-sodium foods
We are excited to announce that the food-as-medicine program is now expanding across seven counties in the Indiana Uplands with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indiana Department of Health. Residents of Crawford, Daviess, Greene, Jackson, Lawrence, Orange, and Washington counties who are interested in participating can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.