Farms Finest: Local farmers market fills the prescription for health |

Farms Finest: Local farmers market fills the prescription for health

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

Long ago the Greeks advised, “Let food be thy medicine.” Today, between the modern walls of medical offices, this very same wisdom is being repeated. Across the country, doctors and their patients are engaging in conversations about the importance of the nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Yet there are some doctors who are going beyond talk and finding innovative ways to make diet changes really happen. Last week, I learned that this was being done at Glenwood Medical Associates in Glenwood Springs.

This was their first year to offer the “Summer Farmacy’’ program, which actually shows folks how to eat healthy. Glenwood Medical Associates is committed to putting in practice their slogan of “Be Healthy. We’ll Help.’’

Dr. Paul Salmen, director of Glenwood Medical Associates, began the “Summer Farmacy” program because he felt that just telling people they should change diets and eat healthy was not enough. As a result, a new prescription was created that puts healthy food squarely into the hands of their patients.

The local Glenwood Springs downtown farmers market is the pharmacy used for fulfilling these prescriptions for fresh produce. Coupons in increments of five dollars are received from the doctor’s hand to their patients. For even more inspiration, they also offer healthy and simple recipes for preparing dishes using fruits and vegetables.

Last week, I was invited to learn more about this program. I was given three vouchers and asked if I would use them in the same way as one of their patients. Intrigued, I arrived at the market thinking this was an effort to show how much healthy local food three five-dollar vouchers could buy, or maybe it was supporting a community sustainability effort? Or even better, it could be an example of how to eat healthier on a budget. I was about to discover it was all of this and much more.

With these vouchers, I tentatively entered the farmers market feeling unsure of the vendors’ response. I slowly approached the first booth and produced a coupon to Skip Doty of Early Morning Orchard from Palisade and asked if he honored this. Then, pointing to the summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers, I asked for five dollars worth. To my amazement, they quickly filled up a bag.

I asked how this program was working for them. Doty replied, “We are very happy with this. Today alone, we have been open only one hour and this is our fourth redemption.”

The next booth now seemed easier to approach, so I stepped up to Z’s Orchard and produced a coupon to Ken Williams and expertly pointed to the tomatoes and peaches and watched another bag be filled. (This is more enjoyable than I had imagined.)

I asked Williams how this program was working for them and he quickly offered, “People come in and buy fruits and vegetables all the time using these; it is a just a great thing for everybody in every way.” As I walked away, I was suddenly feeling like I was doing something good myself by participating in this circle of community sustainability.

Looking for local apples as the next item on the shopping list, I chose Okagawa Farms out of Grand Junction, and there I spoke with Steve Nieslanik.

While exchanging my last coupon, I received an entire sack of apples topped off with a few bonus veggies. Steve leaned over and volunteered, “This is a fantastic program. People are actually using this and learning about food. This season we have received well over $400 in coupons.”

As I headed back to my car, with an arm load of fresh food, I realized just how effective this program is. By going beyond giving medical advice alone, the Glenwood Medical Associates providers were actually getting healthy food into their patients’ diets.

“It’s surprising how many people we see who don’t know much about vegetables,” Salmen said. “We’d like to help them bridge that gap and get something fresh and actually healthy in their diets each week. This will help them learn more about how to eat for maximum health.”

This season has been the first year for Glenwood Medical Associates’ Summer Farmacy program. Next year they have plans to roll out an even better program for connecting fresh produce with their patients’ diets and lifestyles. Incentives like this will send more customers to local food-producing businesses and that is a prescription for local sustainability.

Joni Keefe grew up on a Vermont farm and has spent her career working with the environment and agriculture. She is passionate about sustainability, healthy agriculture and food systems. Contact her at


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