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Best medicine includes healthy veggies; Macon County garden wins top award

group of people winning award

URBANA, Ill. – Healthy food can improve health outcomes. A team of University of Illinois Extension staff in Macon County combined efforts to improve food access for participants in Crossing Healthcare’s Prescription Produce Program.

Their efforts earned the team Extension’s Interdisciplinary Team Award. Awardees include Staci Coussens, Louise Hyneman, Marisa Capps, Julia Duncan, Sarah Vogel, and Jenna Ward.

Crossing Healthcare, a community health center, initiated the prescription produce program in 2016, serving patients with diet-related illnesses.

In 2018, Macon County Master Gardeners began volunteering in the garden, and horticulture staff added expertise on improving the garden. The gardeners provided nearly 1,500 hours of volunteers service resulting in more than 6,800 pounds of produce provided to 117 patients in the program.

A Growing Together Illinois special project, funded by SNAP-Ed, allowed the partnership to expand. SNAP-Education Extension staff assisted Crossing Healthcare’s dietitians implement the USDA’s Hunger Vital Signs food insecurity assessment to confirm the food insecurity status of patients. This allowed food insecure residents to access the garden regardless of health status.

Creating a safe, welcoming space for families to learn and taste test recipes is a critical component in ensuring patients consume the produce they receive. To support this, SNAP-Ed staff provide nutrition education and recipes that match the food distributed each week.

4-H youth development staff complemented the program by providing nutrition education for youth.

Eating habits are changing with 95% of participants saying they plan to eat more produce because of the program. More than 2,000 produce prescriptions have been redeemed at the garden.

“This project is the definition of a successful partnership between a community agency and Illinois Extension,” says Jamie Boas, Extension county director.

The team award was presented during the Illinois Extension Annual Conference held in November in Urbana.

PHOTO: Macon County Extension staff won the Illinois Extension Interdisciplinary Award during a ceremony at the group's annual conference. Winners pictured, left to right, include Staci Coussens, Louise Hyneman, Marisa Capps, Julia Duncan, and Sarah Vogel, and Jenna Ward. Illinois Extension Director Shelly Nickols-Richardson, right, made the presentation.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

WRITER: Judy Mae Bingman, Extension Communications Advisor and Web Content Strategist
SOURCE: Elisha Hughes, Extension Workforce Professional and Training Development Associate