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Latina-Focused Produce Rx Program Benefits Entire Families

Reaching vulnerable communities and improving health outcomes through produce prescriptions.

Customer buys vegetables as part of Adelante Mujeres’ Produce Prescription Program. (Photo Courtesy of Adelante Mujeres)

As the 15th of 16 siblings growing up poor in Oaxaca, Mexico, Celerina Rojas’s favorite food was bean tacos with lots of salt.

As an adult, she noticed a rising prevalence of diabetes within her family. Her own warning signs came about seven years ago, during her fourth pregnancy.

“I gained a lot of weight, had headaches and fatigue, and was thirsty all the time,” said Rojas, who now lives with her family in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Diagnosed as pre-diabetic, she immediately felt fear, which only intensified when her oldest son, then 7 years old, received the same diagnosis.

She knew she had to act.

Celerina Rojas and her family. (Photo Courtesy of Celerina Rojas)

Nurse practitioner Laura Rodriguez directed Rojas to the nonprofit Adelante Mujeres (Women Rise), and she joined their produce prescription program.

As part of the program, Rojas received $40 per month per family member to buy fruits and vegetables, and an additional $50 in vouchers per month per family to shop at the farmers’ market during the six months that it is open.

“I dropped from 150 pounds to 112,” Rojas said. “I have more energy and the doctor says I’m no longer pre-diabetic, nor is my son.”

And she’s never turning back. As a community health worker, she supports and encourages new participants in Adelante Mujeres’ produce prescription program.

  • In a family, and in a community, produce prescription programs creates transformative change. We want to show others how well this can work.
    Andrea Chunga-Celis
    Adelante Mujeres’ Director of Development

Changing Lifestyles Along with Diets

Adelante Mujeres established their Produce Prescription program in 2014 to combat obesity, diabetes, other chronic diseases. Today, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, 192 families participate, most over three years so new habits have time to take hold.

This year, the Foundation expanded its commitment to advance Food is Medicine programs like produce prescriptions, with the goal of improving health and slashing an annual $1.1 trillion national healthcare bill for diet-related diseases.

“We’ve seen the power and potential of Food is Medicine programs across the United States to improve health outcomes for individuals and communities, but access to these programs remains limited,” said Devon Klatell, Vice President for Food, The Rockefeller Foundation. “We know the Adelante Mujeres model is scalable, and we hope it spreads to more communities in Oregon and beyond.”

Adelante Mujeres gives participants vouchers to buy produce from the farmers market. (Photo Courtesy of Adelante Mujeres)

That model is about changing lifestyles as well as diets.

“Before joining the produce prescription program, many of our participants thought the farmers’ market was only for people with money,” said Lucia Benavides, a promotora de salud, or community health worker, for Adelante Mujeres.

“Now with the produce prescription program, whole families go every week to enjoy the music and the atmosphere while they buy fruits and vegetables,” she said. “In our classes, we ask, ‘What did you find new this week?’ and then we talk about how to prepare it.”

  • A cooking class for Adelante Mujeres' Produce Prescription Program (Photo Courtesy of Adelante Mujeres)
    A cooking class for Adelante Mujeres' Produce Prescription Program. (Photo Courtesy of Adelante Mujeres)

Ingredients are prepared for a Produce Presciption cooking class. (Photo Courtesy of Adelante Mujeres)

Adelante Mujeres also leads monthly nutrition education and cooking workshops, and offers exposure to exercises like Tai Chi, and other health tips.

“In the very first class, we talk about the importance of water. And then we keep bringing it up,” said Carla Fisanich, the Health Equity Program Manager.

Seventy percent of the families participating say at least one family member lost weight on the program, while 30 percent reduced the number of medications they were taking, 36 percent reported decreased cholesterol and 36 percent were able to control their diabetes.

“When you replace pills with fruits and vegetables, you can feel it in your energy, your skin, your hair. And when you go to the doctor, you can see it in your numbers—blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, energy level—even your mood and mental health,” Benavides said.

Confronting Diet-Triggered Diseases

Adelante Mujeres works in five cities in Washington County, in the fertile Tualatin Valley of northwestern Oregon, a region known for growing Christmas trees, berries, wine grapes, and vegetables. They are sharing their model with other organizations in hopes that it can spread.

If the use of produce prescriptions spread, the potential implications are huge, in terms of both improved health and lower medical bills.

Why it Matters


    of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables


    deaths annually are caused by poor diets contributing to heart disease and diabetes in the U.S.


    of Latino and Hispanic adults develop Type 2 diabetes

Only one in ten American adults are thought to eat the recommended daily amount of fruit or vegetables, and the gap is even more pronounced among those earning lowers. At the same time, poor diets contribute to whopping 300,000 annual deaths from heart disease and diabetes.

Over their lifetime, U.S. adults overall have a 40 percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. But for Hispanic or Latino adults, that number rises to more than 50 percent, and it is likely to develop it at a younger age.

Diabetes complications also hit harder: Hispanic or Latino people have higher rates of kidney failure caused by diabetes as well as diabetes-related vision loss and blindness. And diabetes is a contributing factor of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Pumpkin Tacos, Spinach Tortillas

Making the shifts to prevent diet-linked diseases can be challenging, but Adelante Mujeres is about empowering women through a variety of means, including education and community.

“When I started changing our family meals,” Rojas said, “it was difficult at first. Meat and bread were hard to give up. We still eat them, but less often and in much smaller portions. I prepare a lot of tofu and lentils.”

Participants prepare vegetables as part of Adelante Mujeres’ Produce Prescription Program. (Photo Courtesy of Adelante Mujeres)

Program participants have learned how to make pumpkin tacos, spinach tortillas, and burritos with avocado and cucumbers topped with a sauce made with organic tomatoes.

“Smoothies are now my favorite food,” Rojas says. “And for huevos rancheros, the whole family prefers tofu to scrambled eggs.”

Adelante Mujeres remains committed to participants even after they have completed their three years.

“They’ve had access to fruits and vegetables, and they’ve seen the changes,” said Benavides. “Once they no longer receive the financial support, we teach them where to find those resources affordably – in food banks or elsewhere – so they can continue to eat for health.”

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