Take two home-grown tomatoes and call us in the morning.
It’s advice any health-conscious individual can take to heart — literally. Tomatoes, like many vegetables commonly grown in local gardens, have properties that promote heart health.
Now, resident physicians at Ellis Hospital are teaming up with Cornell Cooperative Extension and several other county organizations to bring locally grown vegetables to those who are suffering from or at risk for cardiovascular problems. Funded by a $189,500 grant from the AstraZeneca Health Care Foundation, the program aims to bring heart-healthy foods into the daily diet of at-risk, low-income people by both supplying them with fresh produce and teaching them methods to prepare it.
“That’s a stumbling block for many people because they don’t know how to prepare them,” said Chris Logue, executive director of the Schenectady County branch of Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The unique part of the program is that Cooperative Extension will team with the Schenectady ARC and youth from Roots and Wisdom to grow the vegetables for the programs at the city greenhouse in Central Park and in a one-acre garden on Fehr Avenue. Once the produce is harvested, the organizations will distribute them to Ellis Health Center patients at an urban farm stand on a bi-weekly basis.
Logue said physicians will actually write a “prescription” for the vegetables that will be used as a voucher to be redeemed at the farm stand. In all, about 100 vouchers will be distributed, with the hope of the program supporting roughly 400 people — or enough produce for 4,000 meals.
“And they will be ‘prescribed’ to people who are at risk for cardiovascular disease,” he said.
The grant announced at the Schenectady ARC’s Maple Ridge Day Center in Rotterdam on Wednesday will go to help outreach and to hire a grower to assist in raising the vegetables. Logue said the vegetables will primarily be of varieties that are commonly found, including tomatoes, beans, peppers, broccoli and assorted greens.
Logue anticipates starting seedlings in the greenhouse next month and getting them growing in the garden by early spring. Participating organizations will then package the harvested vegetables so they can be picked up by each person or family with a voucher.
The program is expected to produce vegetables from late June through the duration of the growing season, which generally ends in October. At the end of the season, Logue would like to involve program participants in other year-round healthy-eating programs, such as Eat Smart New York.
Meanwhile, Logue said he intends to apply for a second round of grant money aimed at creating a year-round program that involves even more organizations. For example, he said, health insurance carriers could get involved in the initiative, much like some carriers will fund fitness memberships for their enrollees.
“We look at this as being a real benefit to the health insurers,” he said.