Montrose County in western Colorado is an agricultural community. Everything from apples to zucchini is grown there. However, not everyone knows what’s in season, how they can access it or how to prepare it.
The Local Farmacy Rx program is trying to change that. Through it low-income families learn how to eat healthy locally.
LiveWell Montrose Olathe puts on the free course.
"So our ultimate goal is to actually help increase fruit and vegetable consumption," said Abbie Brewer, a coordinator for the nonprofit. "I believe that this program is really helping...families get healthier."
To participate, families commit to attending a two-hour class every other week for 12 weeks.
Each class includes a cooking demonstration and nutrition component. The program is offered in English and Spanish.
Karen Hunter, a retired pharmacist, leads the nutrition portion of the English course.
She said in the beginning, many participants are not familiar with the diversity of crops grown in the area or how to use them.
"And, many of them are probably unfamiliar with starting with whole foods because the processed foods have been so marketed and have been made so cheap that people think that is the less expensive way to eat," Hunter said. "So in this program they learn how they can use whole foods to make nutritious meals for less than it would cost them to purchase the processed counter parts."
Hunter said the course tends to serve populations that face a higher risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease. That’s why throughout the program the weight and blood pressure of students is monitored.
"If your blood pressure goes down that affects your overall cardiovascular health in a positive way," she said. "If your weight goes down that’s going to decrease your risk for diabetes as well as anything related to being overweight."
To qualify for the program, people need to be eligible for food stamps or Medicaid and have at least one kid between the ages of 6 and 12.
During the course, they also receive a voucher for $32 a week. People can spend it at the local farmers market or purchase a box filled with local fruits and vegetables that they pick up at class.
Heidi Machart , a single mother of three, brings her 11-year-old daughter to the class offered in Montrose.
She said since enrolling in the program her diet has changed.
"Before we really didn’t do a lot of vegetables," said Machart. "We definitely didn’t buy fresh produce. Now we add just add vegetables to everything."
She said her family is also eating less food on the go. And instead, they are preparing meals together.
"It’s good bonding time and it’s healthier," said Machart. "There is not all of the preservatives and it’s just better and you are eating as a family and that’s better."
Jennifer Crouch and her 7-year-old son also participate in the course.
"I’m learning how to be a little smarter with my food budget, to plan better [and] to keep it simple in the kitchen, " said Crouch. "I’m really enjoying the whole community piece where we learn what’s local."
Victor Encarnacion attends with his wife and three kids. He said so far he’s learned how to read food labels, plan meals and cook with local produce.
"That’s good to know because you can help [local] farmers and you are helping yourself by eating healthy," said Encarnacion.
Now in its second year, enrollment has more than tripled for the program. It has 35 families this time around.
Next year, organizers hope to expand it to neighboring Delta County.