By Lyra Bordelon
A 15-week medical trial into the effects of fresh food on pre-diabetics’ blood sugar and health levels recently got started through the Rainelle Medical Center and the West Virginia University Extension Service Family Nutrition Program. The FARMacy WV program, explained coordinator Mary Surbaugh, also comes with the added benefit of purchasing the food from Greenbrier County farmers, supporting their business, rather than importing food from somewhere else.
“They give me so much money to spend with the local farmers, and I’m not just spending it with one,” explained Surbaugh. “Everybody is going to get a piece of the pie. Basically the whole concept is to get pre-diabetics and people who want to change their numbers. If you couple that with exercise and fresh food, those numbers can disappear. [We hoping ] you can get off insulin or those pills. That’s what we’re doing. … The worst we can do is makes somebody happy, but hopefully their numbers will drop. It is a medical trial and it’s wonderful that we’re in on this.”
Surbaugh also highlighted the economic effects of the program for local farmers, as the funding means she can purchase supplies directly from the Greenbrier Valley.
“It’s a shot in the arm,” Surbaugh said. “It’s extra revenue for 15 weeks. Most of the time, our farmers grow so much, then they come to market and they have extra. What are they going to do with it? … Here’s Mary standing. Let’s talk. I won’t give you full retail but let’s make a deal. And they’re so generous.”
The program’s pilot began in 2016 as a collaboration between the Wheeling Health Right Clinic and Grow Ohio Valley in Wheeling out of “a joint concern for the health of the population of West Virginia” with high rates of “high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.” The study aims to prove that “food is medicine” and that the first method of both treatment and prevention of chronic disease should be with a healthy diet rather than prescriptions.
The program expanded to ten more counties, including Greenbrier, after receiving a $658,000 Walmart Foundation grant to the WWVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program. This partnership now also includes the Rainelle Medical Center and the Lewisburg Farmers Market.
“We are excited to partner with WVU and the Lewisburg Farmers Market to offer a new program to offer healthy eating to our Diabetic community,” reads a social media post from Rainelle Medical Center. “FARMacy where food is medicine!”
According to the Farmacy website, farmacywv.com, so far the studies have shown:
• blood sugars and cholesterol improved when patients ate a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits.
• A majority of participants said they felt better, had more energy, and would continue to eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables if they had access and could afford to do so.
• eating more fresh vegetables can improve HgA1C levels and overall health and wellness.
Through another part of the same program, Sarbaugh explained, food banks in Rupert and Quinwood will be getting additional food, such as a recent delivery of 15, 10-pound bags of produce.
“There’s also enough money to do popup markets for kids,” Surbaugh said. “Same funding, just a different arm. We’ve got the diabetic arm, then the kids’ pop-up arm, the medical side, and, here’s another good part, the food bank side.”
Sarubaughs emphasized the need for people to find their food as locally as possible, giving the farmers a boost and eating healthier, fresher foods.
“Keep your doctor close, but keep your farmer closer because food is medicine,” Surbaugh explained. “This is a win/win for everyone and I’m happy.”