Nearly 70% of the Birmingham community is impacted by food insecurity. This new Food Rx program is here to help.


Food Rx program - Jones Valley Teaching Farm
Helping the community grow. (Jones Valley Teaching Farm)

One of the best things about Birmingham is how we come together to help serve our community. Food insecurity is one of the greatest challenges our city faces, with upwards of 146,000 residents living in a food desert. In general, food can be hard to come by, but fresh, healthy food is an even greater barrier to overcome. That’s where American Heart Association‘s (AHA) Food Rx program steps in. Read on to learn more.

Food insecurity in Birmingham

According to the USDA, lack of food access is a major issue in Alabama, with 13.1% of households being food insecure and 4.6% very low food secure. Many of those experiencing food insecurity are faced with a difficult decision—choosing between food you can afford and food that is nutritious.

In Birmingham, nearly 70% of residents live in neighborhoods lacking adequate access to quality, affordable fresh foods, according to the city. That’s over 146,000 residents in Birmingham alone. This barrier to healthy food access plays a major role in rising obesity and diet-related disease in the community.

Access to healthy food positively impacts us all, and there are several local programs making a difference. One of those programs is Food Rx—a new “food prescription” program helping eligible city residents receive fresh foods at no cost.

How Food Rx is helping

Food Rx Program — Jones Valley Teaching Farm
The Produce Stand at Jones Valley Teaching Farm. (Jones Valley Teaching Farm)

Sometimes, an apple a day really is what the doctor ordered. Support from local sponsor Medical Properties Trust enabled the American Heart Association to launch the Food Rx program. AHA teamed up with these incredible local organizations to bring the program to life:

  • Jones Valley Teaching Farm—a Birmingham-based nonprofit dedicated to serving the community through quality, food-based education services, teaching young people the importance of growing their own food and leading a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
  • Alabama Regional Medical Services (ARMS)—a federally qualified health center that provides primary care services in underserved areas in the community.

Did you know? 63% of ARMS patients live below the federal poverty guideline, which puts them at risk of nutrition insecurity. Through Food RX, eligible patients at ARMS will receive fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost.

“Our nutrition security work is something we’re really proud of. There are a number of food deserts in and around the Birmingham area. A lot of people struggle with not just food insecurities, but nutrition insecurities. Access to those nutritious foods is what’s really important. Our hope is that adding nutrition and fresh produce into these people’s diets will have an influence on their overall cardiovascular health.” 

Kim Baldwin, Vice President of Health Strategies, American Heart Association

Programs like this are especially necessary in our local food deserts like Ensley, Fairfield and Woodlawn. Helping people in these communities and beyond creates a better Birmingham for everyone.

“The most rewarding thing about working on the FoodRx program is getting to see a patient change their eating habits because we were able to provide them with better options. We also have some patients that are planning for gardens at their homes or shelters to keep the healthy eating habits going.”

Nanette Allen, Chief Operating Officer, ARMS

Coming together for the community

Food Rx program — Jones Valley Teaching Farm
Working together. (Jones Valley Teaching Farm)

Last Fall, Birmingham-based company Shipt provided the American Heart Association with a community impact and innovation grant to support the continuation of Food Rx.

“At Shipt, we’re committed to expanding access for minority-owned businesses and narrowing the food insecurity gap in our communities. The FoodRx program, including the cooking demonstrations at Jones Valley Teaching Farm and SNAP referral assistance, has the opportunity to add to the existing nutrition security research on food prescription programs, and most importantly make a positive health impact for community members in Birmingham.”

Shipt spokesperson

When individuals take part in the Food Rx program, the outreach doesn’t stop at the fresh food they receive. JVTF provides programming to help people leave with valuable knowledge about growing their own food, along with tips and healthy recipes.

“The FoodRx program as a part of the ARMS mission is to continue to treat the patient holistically. A lot of our facilities are located in food deserts where patients have problems accessing healthy food. We continue to strive to remove any barriers a patient might have to living a healthy life. Accessing healthy food options and recipes are a huge part of overall health.”

Nanette Allen, Chief Operating Officer, ARMS

More ways to help

Food Rx Program — Jones Valley Teaching Farm
Freshly grown produce. (Jones Valley Teaching Farm)

Another uplifting, community-driven program combating food insecurity is Fairfield’s Third Meal program. With 80% of the community living in poverty, Fairfield is an underserved area. Through the Third Meal program, their entire school system qualifies for free/reduced lunch and third meal pickups are provided to make sure student’s nutritional needs are met.

Plus, the American Heart Association is expanding their programming this year, allowing them to serve even more communities in 2023 and beyond.

Want to get involved? Consider becoming a volunteer at Jones Valley Teaching Farm, or give back to a local organization fighting food insecurity in our community.

“Leaving work each day knowing that we have helped someone make better choices, feel healthier or think of ways to improve their healthy habits is the most rewarding thing about my job. The FoodRx program and ARMS will continue to work together to bring healthy options and health education to our community.”

Nanette Allen, Chief Operating Officer, ARMS

Keep up with all things American Heart Association, visit their website to learn more about their mission and follow them on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date on the latest.

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