Over 150 stakeholders from across NY and PA gathered in Binghamton on November 6th for the Rural Health Network’s Food as Medicine Summit! Throughout the day attendees learned about innovative programs, policies, research, and coalitions advancing food as medicine in South Central NY, the Northeast, and nationally. 

Jack Salo, Executive Director of the Rural Health Network of SCNY, kicked off the Food as Medicine Summit with opening remarks on the connections not only between food access and chronic illness, but also local farms, sustainable agriculture, and rural communities. Deputy Commissioner Kevin King from the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, continued to explore these connections and opportunities within NYS, commenting on the innovative work that organizations are doing around the state to increase access to local food and agriculture from a food as medicine lens. 

The morning keynote, provided by Jean Terranova, Director of Food and Health Policy at the Boston based non-profit Community Servings, gave attendees insight into implementation, outcomes, and funding streams for Medically Tailored Meals. According to the national Food is Medicine Coalition, “medically tailored meals (MTM) are meals approved by an RDN that reflect appropriate dietary therapy based on evidence-based practice guidelines. Diet/meals are recommended by an RDN based on a nutritional assessment and referral by a health care provider to address a medical diagnosis, symptoms, allergies, medication management and side effects to ensure the best possible nutrition-related health outcomes”. Research on Community Servings’ comprehensive MTM program shows a 16% net reduction in healthcare costs and 70% fewer emergency department visits. The keynote also addressed the important role of  coalition building and policy to advance Food is Medicine, including models such as the Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan, Food is Medicine Massachusetts (FIMMA) coalition, and the National Food is Medicine Coalition. Attendees spent time in small groups brainstorming local, regional, and national stakeholders to engage around these issues. 

You can view Jean’s presentation here: https://prezi.com/view/YLeQPTPJzNnGzJrHLkrW/

The morning panel discussion highlighted the diversity of food as medicine programs emerging across the South Central NY region, and opportunities for collaboration, shared learning, and expansion. Panelists shared experiences with initiatives including a hospital garden through Guthrie Medical Group’s Bariatric Medicine program, FVRx Tompkins at CCE Tompkins,  South Central New York FVRx program at Rural Health Network of SCNY, and Finger Lakes Eat Smart NY Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program.

During the locally sourced lunch, Lisa Zullig, Director of Nutrition Services at God’s Love We Deliver, delivered a second keynote focused on another pioneering Medically Tailored Meals program based in New York City. Lisa shared details on both the structure and outcomes of their programs, an innovative Food and Nutrition Services Bundle program, and the role of both policy and systems change. 

Afternoon workshops gave attendees an opportunity to dig into the details of programs like Geisinger Health’s Fresh Food Farmacy; hear from community based organizations and healthcare providers on the successes and challenges of integrating food as medicine interventions in clinical settings; and unpack the complex barriers and health disparities related to food insecurity, food access, and chronic illness.  Attendees ended the day with time to reflect on what they had learned, raise questions, and begin to identify if/how they would like to be involved in future regional efforts related to food as medicine, and what those efforts might look like.

The Food as Medicine Summit was an opportunity to learn, network, and spark collaboration to innovative programs, policy, and systems change. Rural Health Network is extremely grateful to HealtheConnections and Care Compass Network for their sponsorship support; to event partners Food Bank of the Southern Tier and VINES; and to all of the speakers, attendees, and staff at the DoubleTree for making it a successful and inspiring event!