The universe must be trying to tell me something, Margaret Duriez thought as she smoothed the article clipping she’d just rediscovered at the bottom of her purse. It was an inspiring story about a farm-to-hospital program, in which fresh, nutritious produce was given to patients to help speed healing. Having her own organic farm, the article had caught Margaret’s interest.
Margaret had originally started her Wellington, Florida, farm to keep her family of seven, all vegetarians, nourished and safe from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. After her 10 rows of crops had grown to more than 35 rows, Margaret and her husband, Franck, had became regular sellers at local farmers markets.
Now, as she reread the article about this innovative program, she just happened to be waiting for one of her sons to come out of hernia surgery in Florida’s Jupiter Medical Center…and an idea struck. I wonder if Jupiter Medical Center would consider doing a program like this with us!
Sewing Seeds of Hope
Margaret’s son’s surgery went well and, afterward, as she chatted with pediatric surgery specialist Marshall Stone, MD, she brought up the idea of initiating a “prescription for nutrition” program at the hospital. What she didn’t know was that Dr. Stone’s wife happened to be a huge nutrition advocate and had even written books on the subject. When he shared the idea later that evening with his wife, she encouraged him to bring Margaret’s idea to the hospital administrators.
Margaret was thrilled when, not long after, Dr. Stone announced that the hospital was on board. And, in the spring of 2019, Fresh Rx, a nonprofit to deliver nutrient-rich fresh produce to hospital patients for free, was born!
Margaret and other area farmers quickly offered up crops and, after holding a few successful fundraisers, doctors were soon writing prescriptions for patients to receive Fresh Rx boxes of produce to take home. Kristen Andrews, who was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, told Margaret, “I’m on disability. Before your program, I purchased very little, if any, fruit and veggies. Thanks to Fresh Rx, I am able to get fresh produce without adding to my expenses. And it’s boosted my health, energy and overall well-being — I feel so much stronger and healthier than I did before!”
Stories like Kristen’s warmed Margaret’s heart. We’re not just growing food, we’re growing hope, she thought proudly.
A New Challenge
Fresh Rx had been up and running for just under a year when COVID-19 hit. Now more than ever, people need to be healthy to stay healthy, Margaret thought. And she felt a strong pull to expand her program to provide nutrient-dense food to those hit the hardest by the pandemic: low-income families (whose children would be missing out on school-assisted breakfasts and lunches) and frontline healthcare workers.
With restaurants closed, there was lots of produce ready to harvest with nowhere to go. At the same time, people were finding the grocery shelves empty. “If we redirect that produce from farmers to those in need, it will be a win-win for everyone,” Margaret told her husband. Needing distribution centers, she got in touch with the Boys & Girls Club of Palm Beach County, who generously granted use of some of their sites, and Farm to Family and Farm to First Responders programs became offshoots of Fresh Rx.
In a little more than three months, Margaret and her team were able to provide fresh produce, fruits, bread, and eggs to more than 30,000 people, and the numbers keep multiplying. “My favorite part has been seeing families use their weekly box of fresh local produce to bond, cook and enjoy meals together-to not just survive tough times, but thrive in spite of them,” she smiles. “Having something positive to focus on has also helped me stay strong during the pandemic. In every dark situation, there’s light. I feel blessed to be part of that light.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.