2016 Culture of Health Prize Winner: Columbia Gorge Region Veggie Rx Program


The Columbia Gorge Region is a winner of the 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. One of the community’s successful initiatives is a “Veggie Rx” program. Veggie Rx is administered by OCFSN Member organization Gorge Grown Food Network and was developed in partnership with Lauren Kraemer of Oregon State University Extension’s Family & Community Health (FCH) program. The Veggie Rx program “prioritizes food not just theoretically or through nutritional advice, but on the ground by screening patients for their food needs,” says Sarah Sullivan, executive director of Gorge Grown. Veggie Rx is a unique program to feed the food insecure. It grew out of a needs assessment by the region’s Coordinated Care Organization that deemed Food Insecurity as a top issue along with a Community Food Assessment that determined 1 in 3 people in the Gorge worry about where their food comes from, and 1 in 5 miss meals regularly.

Issue Overview

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1990 no state had an obesity rate greater than 15%. Just 15 years later, however, 5 states had obesity rates between 20% and 25%, and the remaining 45 states all had rates over 25%.

Studies have shown that being overweight or obese poses risks for health problems including type 2 diabetes, high blood cholesterol, hypertension and stroke, asthma, and certain forms of cancer. The National Center for Weight & Wellness at George Washington University has estimated that obesity-related medical costs now total over $300 billion.

Local and community food systems advocates are now promoting affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables in an effort to shift diets away from highly processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods.

Veggie Rx programs empower doctors and nurses to offer vouchers for purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables to patients who are experiencing specific diet related health concerns or food insecurity. Some programs also offer nutrition counseling and cooking skills education to help patients develop healthier eating habits.

About the Program

The mission of Gorge Grown is to build a resilient and inclusive regional Food System that improves the health and well-being of the community. In 2014, 40 organizations worked together to identify the top health needs in the region through a Community Health Needs Assessment.  Through this work, the top two needs identified by community members in the Social Determinants of Health category were food insecurity and affordable housing.

Gorge Grown’s Veggie Rx program is a fruit and vegetable prescription program designed to address food insecurity and increase intake of fresh produce. The program empowers health care and social services providers to ‘prescribe’ vouchers to community members who screen positive for food insecurity.

Citizens are screened by 40 participating health care and social service providers. If they suffer from hunger, they are given a packet of vouchers worth $30 for one month to redeem at any one of 30 local groceries, farms stands, or farmers markets. This provides direct access to healthy, local produce to those that need it most while strengthening the economy by keeping dollars local.

The program has fed more than 6,500 people in just one year with an emphasis on pregnant mothers, children younger than 10, diabetics and the elderly. Recipients have embraced the idea: at senior centers, the redemption rate has been as high as 98 percent. Funding support has come from local hospitals and clinics, as well as private sources, with efforts underway to raise additional public and private funds to expand and sustain a larger base of users. The Veggie Rx program has been a tool for linking farmers with local consumers, and participants have experienced an improvement in diet, nutrition, physical health, mental health, and financial health. Additional information about Gorge Grown’s Veggie Rx program can be found here.


About the Award

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), whose mission is “to improve the health and health care of all Americans,” has selected seven communities to receive the 2016 RWJF Culture of Health Prize (#cutlureofhealthprize). The winning communities were chosen from a group of nearly 200 applicants and are being honored for their efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.

Each winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize, join a network of Prize-winning communities, and share their inspiring stories of challenges met, successes achieved, and lessons learned with other communities building a Culture of Health across the country. More information about the 2016 RWJF Culture of Health Prize for Veggie Rx in the Columbia River Gorge can be found here.