Prescription for Produce Leverages the Power of Food to Achieve Health

June 14, 2019 |

Above: Registered dietitian Nina Fearon instructs class attendees on roasting fruits and vegetables, like celeriac, in the Petoskey Crooked Tree Arts Center kitchen.

What started out as three 45-minute hands-on cooking classes could mean something big for the health of our northern Michigan community. Groundwork staff are perpetually knee-deep in this kind of work—the kind that starts as one or two conversations in a coffee shop, then grows into a regional program, and then onto a statewide initiative (see: 10 Cents a Meal!), or a feel-good story about a child who changed her or his mind from despising vegetables to loving them. As if weren’t enough for our farm to school project at Pellston Public Schools to convert skeptical students into bonafide turnip-lovers, one student told me she recently began using recipes from school at home with her family! In a county with higher than average rates of chronic diet-related diseases, like diabetes, this kind of cultural change—to an embrace of healthy eating—is of paramount importance.

Spinach leaves await a roasted root topping and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.

Prescription for Produce” is one such pilot program that aims to bring about healthier eating habits. It provides health education, nutrition information, cooking techniques, and local produce to qualified participants. Patients of Bay View OB/GYN, who have been referred by pilot-participating doctors, and others referred through the Health Department of Northwest Michigan were invited to attend three 45-minute classes in the fall of 2018; many sessions were held during farmers market hours to give easy access to local food shopping. Classes took place at the Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC) kitchen in Petoskey, and were taught by local health advocate and Registered Dietitian Nina Fearon.

With assistance from community volunteers and Retired and Senior Volunteer Program members, the first class saw attendees prepare carrots with fresh thyme, and learn steaming and sautéing techniques. “In class two, we sampled roasted acorn squash and apple, and prepared roasted broccoli with red cabbage,” says Fearon. “We did a demo of squash cutting, tomato skinning and prepping broccoli stem, julienne style, for broccoli slaw.” Using fresh, local ingredients, participants prepared lentil soup and fennel salad with apple. Nutrition was a thread of discussion throughout the three-class series, alongside the benefits of eating a plant-filled diet. As Fearon likes to tell her clients, “Eating a rainbow” provides vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber benefits, and multiple anti-oxidants—“cell protection, cell protection, cell protection,” emphasizes Fearon while chopping purple carrots.