Boxes of vegetables as medical advocates work for food justice / Public Information Service

Low-income families in the East Bay area may soon have easier access to locally grown fresh produce thanks to the expansion of a nationwide Medi-Cal program called Cal Aim starting in June.

A local non-profit organization called Urban Tilth is working with the William Jenkins Health Center and the Contra Costa Health Plan to bring the “Medically Appropriate Diet Plan” to the community.

Marco Lemus, Food as Medicine program coordinator at Urban Tilth, said if you increase access to healthy foods, you tackle the region’s biggest killers: heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

“Creating a system where people have affordable options and boxes of food are delivered directly to their homes helps people avoid chronic disease,” Lemus explained. “And start at an early age rather than waiting until people are already sick to try to provide care.”

People can talk to their doctor about being referred to the program.

Lemus pointed out that Urban Tilth’s Veggie Rx program has been delivering low-cost, free weekly food boxes for years, but the need has tripled during the pandemic.

“People are telling them to make better choices, but they literally don’t have that choice, especially our seniors, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, people without transportation,” Lemus pointed out. “A lot of quality grocery stores are located far from where people live. And then we’re struggling with liquor stores, low-quality food, tobacco stores.”

Urban Tilth hopes to boost its efforts by participating in the School of Public Leadership, a two-year program run by the nonprofit HEAL Food Alliance.

Marla Larrave, director of political education for the Alliance, said they help local advocates make a real difference.

“You can deepen these campaigns within your community, you can win policy change, you can influence decision makers,” Larrave argued.

In the Central Valley, former graduates of the School of Political Leadership led the charge to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos at the state and federal levels.

Disclosure: The HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture, Labor) Food Alliance contributes to our fund for reporting on the environment, living wages/working families, social justice and sustainable agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Elna M. Lemons