City expands program connecting low-income NYers with high blood pressure to free produce

You may have heard of farm-to-table, but what about farm-to-pharmacy?

The city is expanding a program that provides free fresh produce to low-income New Yorkers with high blood pressure.

Pharmacy to Farm Prescriptions is being rolled out to 16 independent drugstores across the city, according to the city Health Department.

People who receive SNAP benefits will get $30 in Health Bucks every time they pick up their monthly prescriptions for blood pressure medications. That money can be used to purchase veggies and fruit at GrowNYC and some other farmers’ markets around the city.

“People who are using SNAP need more money for food,” said Jeni Clapp, director of Nutrition Policy and Programs at the city Health Department. “This is good for patients, good for pharmacies and good for farmers.”

Health Department officials pointed out that eating more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis can reduce the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer. About one in four adults in New York City have high blood pressure, putting them at greater risk of heart disease.

The pharmacies are in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

“We know there is a high number of independent pharmacies in low-income neighborhoods in New York City,” said Clapp. “They are the unsung heroes of health care. They are available and open long hours and people can walk right in. They are trusted assets for the community.”

The program started with a pilot in 2017 that included three pharmacies and grew to 10 by 2018. Officials said the program has distributed more than $80,000 in Health Bucks to over 850 participants since it first launched.

Lisa L. Colangelo