close icon
leaf icon
leaf icon
leaf icon
calendar icon
Gardens To Visit
caret icon
Visit a PHS garden or landscape to help build stronger social connections with your community.
For Neighborhoods
caret icon
Explore programs that create healthy, livable environments and increase access to fresh food.
For Gardeners
caret icon
Engage with PHS on gardening, whether you’re an expert or a beginner.
About Us
caret icon
Get to know our story, become a part of our staff, or see what is in the news with PHS.
The Flower Show

VeggieRx Pilot Program Improves Participants' Mental and Physical Health

January 19, 2023

leaf icon phs programs

leaf icon impact

leaf icon gardening

veggie rx

By Melissa O’Brien 

In 2022, the PHS Green Resource Center at Norristown Farm Park partnered with Montgomery County’s Community-Based Care Management (CBCM) clinic, Creative Health Servicesbased in Pottstown to pilot the Food as Medicine VeggieRx program. As part of this pilot program, 25 participants received bi-weekly veggie boxes plus nutrition, food literacy, and gardening workshops over the course of eight months. In total, 2,218 pounds of fresh produce was provided to participants facing health issues and food insecurity. 

The results of the pilot program show tangible improvements in both mental and physical health among participants. “I never thought that eating healthy could taste so good,” said one CHS member and Pottstown resident who participated in the program. Learn more about the impact of the Food as Medicine VeggieRx pilot program, plus what the future holds for this exciting new project. 

“I realized after the rainbow lesson that most of the foods I eat are beige. So I’m trying to eat more color." -CHS Member

Who the Program Serves 

All the participants in the VeggieRx pilot program are at or below the federal poverty level, have been determined to be food insecure, have at least one physical health diagnosis, and have dual mental health diagnoses. All participants are also enrolled in the IOP (intensive outpatient program) and IHI (integrated health initiative) programs, receive intensive outpatient mental health services, and are being seen by the clinic psychiatrist, social workers, nursing staff, and peer support personnel. 

"We were trying to bring information to [Creative Health Services] members in a way that could improve their mental health and their quality of life, but also take into consideration that a lot of these folks need to be careful with how they eat because they have some pretty substantial diet-related illnesses as well,” says Abbey David, a PHS Farm Education Manager at the Green Resource Center at Norristown Farm Park who helped develop and implement this program. It was also important to acknowledge that each participant started with a different level of base knowledge about nutrition and cooking. 

veggie rx cooking demo

How the Program Works 

Beginning in April 2022, each member attended bi-weekly workshops hosted at the Creative Health Services clinic in Pottstown. These workshops lasted two hours each and were led by PHS staff member Abbey David, as well as a Registered Dietitian from Creative Health Services, and a Drexel co-op student. There were 16 unique workshops in total over the course of the 8-month program, including a mix of gardening, nutrition education, culinary skill building, and food demonstrations. Topics included Gardening 101, learning the MyPlate method, exploring flavor and texture profiles, how to use herbs and spices for flavor, healthy desserts and snacking, shopping on a budget, and seasonal eating. 

Some of the workshops included hands-on gardening experience using four accessible raised garden beds that were built onsite at the clinic in Pottstown for this program. “Gardening was incorporated into many of our workshops because all members had to do was walk out the front door and the garden beds are at the front of the property,” says Abbey. All the produce grown onsite at the clinic was harvested for participants to take home or used for cooking demonstrations as part of the workshops. 

Each time participants attended a workshop, they also went home with a VeggieRx box full of organic seasonal produce harvested from the PHS Green Resource Center at Norristown Farm Park. There was a total of 350 VeggieRx boxes donated over the course of the program with the average box weighing in at 7.5 pounds, while the largest one weighed 11.8 pounds in September, thanks to a large watermelon! Participants received a variety of root vegetables, leafy greens, fresh herbs, and fruit in their boxes depending on the season. 

veggie boxes

The Results 

Both quantitative and qualitative health and well-being metrics were collected in order to evaluate the participants' success in the pilot. Results found that participants who were given these services experienced a 54% perceived improvement in mental health, and felt more confident planning healthy meals, selecting seasonal produce, creating balanced meals, and finding healthy foods that fit their budgets, preferences, and lifestyles. “I realized after the rainbow lesson that most of the foods I eat are beige. So I’m trying to eat more color,” said one CHS member and Pottstown resident. 

Additionally, 15% of participants saw improved physical health, with 67% of participants seeing an improvement in cholesterol levels, 41% of participants seeing an improvement in blood pressure, and 22% of participants losing weight. These tangible improvements in both mental and physical health were measured through both qualitative and quantitative surveys, mini-questionnaires, as well as regular biometric assessments. 

veggie rx garden beds

The Future of VeggieRx 

The Food as Medicine VeggieRx program will continue in 2023 and expand to include 40 participants, including some returning members from the pilot program. There will be two additional raised garden beds built on the campus to accommodate the larger cohort of participants. Returning members will experience a curriculum that introduces additional topics and builds upon existing skills, while new members will receive an updated Year 1 curriculum based on lessons learned from the pilot.  

“We want to keep things even more hands-on and participatory in 2023,” says Abbey.  “We want to do more cooking demos, and we also want to make sure that we have more opportunities for gardening – folks really enjoyed getting out into the garden!” 

Want to get involved with the Green Resource Center? Sign up to volunteer and make an impact on your community!