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Harvest for Health
Harvest for Health

In Portland, a group of community stakeholders have banded together in an effort to provide healthy, affordable food and nutrition education to families burdened by diet-related illnesses and lacking access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. Supported by Kaiser Permanente Northwest Community Benefit, Zenger Farm, and the Knight Cancer Institute Community Partnership Program, CSA Partnerships for Health provides one hundred families coping with diet-related diseases and limited access to healthy foods weekly shares of fruits and vegetables from a local farm at a subsidized rate of five dollars per share.

“This partnership serves families without a lot of resources,” said Dr. Betty Izumi of the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. “These are families that might be socially isolated, struggling with problems associated with poverty, and they’re managing chronic, diet-related illnesses. They’re also motivated to improve their health, to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to learn about nutrition, cooking, and healthy eating.”

Dr. Izumi is a registered dietitian and interventionist whose research explores methods of addressing diet-related chronic diseases.

“Dr. Izumi is taking the lead on an essential part of the partnership’s work,” said Mike Wenrick, executive director of Zenger Farm, “which is to evaluate the impact of access to healthy foods and food education on our participating families over the course of three growing seasons. She’s collecting and analyzing data that we hope will demonstrate improved overall health and ultimately drive health care spending on local vegetables and fruits.”

As Mr. Wenrick noted, the social and economic impacts of an unhealthy diet and lack of access to nutritious foods are immense. The Center for Science in the Public Interest estimates diet contributes to nearly 680,000 deaths a year in the US at a cost of roughly $958 billion. Food insecurity, meanwhile, has negative impacts on family stability, workforce reliability, and performance at school.

“Food insecurity is a huge driver of medical costs,” said Dr. Brian Frank, MD, a physician at OHSU’s Richmond Clinic and liaison to the CSA Partnership for Health project.

With the aid of Dr. Izumi, the CSA Partnership for Health aims to build a foundation of qualitative and quantitative evidence and community support to advance the argument that everyone should have access to healthy foods as a measure to prevent diet-related chronic illnesses, reduce morbidity, and lower the cost of healthcare.