Food and nutrition play a major role in our everyday health and in disease prevention, but not everyone has access to affordable, healthy sustenance.
Lowcountry Street Grocery, a grassroots local food delivery service that serves the greater Charleston region and beyond, was initially created in 2015 in response to issues of food inequity in our community. It prioritizes low-income residents with little to no access or transportation to buy healthy foods or who experience food insecurity. Their overarching goal is working toward a more equitable food system for consumers and producers, with an ethos that access to healthy, affordable food is a right, not a privilege.
“Where you live and how much money you have in your bank account should not determine how healthy you eat,” stated LSG founder and CEO Lindsey Barrow.
LSG’s business plan uses market-based strategies to offset the cost of its social mission, a concept LSG calls Robin Hood economics. This sliding scale pricing system allows them to leverage the sale of high-demand, healthy local food to address fresh food access for people who need it the most.
There are three arms of the business that are all interdependent and united under the umbrella company of LSG: a school bus named Nell that operates as a mobile farmers market; a community-supported grocery that serves as a local home delivery subscription service; and a GroceryRx produce prescription program that employs a “food as medicine” concept designed to combat nutrition-related illnesses.
Nutrition Education: The Missing Piece
Registered dietitian and GroceryRx Director Olivia Meyers, RDN, LD, who has been with LSG since 2016, explained that a produce prescription program traditionally involves someone going to the doctor’s office and receiving some sort of transactional prescription for food.
The GroceryRx program works with community clinics like Fetter Health Care and other partners such as MUSC and Roper’s Greer Transitions Clinic to get referrals for people diagnosed with chronic health issues. Patients receive weekly fruit and vegetable prescriptions redeemed through LSG deliveries and are enrolled in free weekly nutrition education classes covering nutrition and wellness basics, cooking and recipes. There also is one-on-one engagement with a registered dietitian.
“Our mission is not just ‘let’s get people food,’ but it’s ‘let’s get people really good food that’s going to be really good for them,’” said Meyers, who previously worked as a dietitian at the Medical University of South Carolina doing outpatient counseling.
Barrow described nutrition education as “the missing piece” in the food equity puzzle.
“I always say it’s like a shot in the arm for food access and food equity,” he remarked. “It’s taking the food as medicine buzzword and applying it in a real-life scenario. And not just giving somebody those tomatoes and garlic and saying, ‘here’s your medicine.’”
GroceryRx originated from an idea that food and nutrition have been separated from health care, and an approach was needed that would bring food back into a clinical setting as a vital part of an individual’s health care plan.
“And we were perfectly designed to do that because we have the clinical side and then we also have the food side,” noted Meyers. “And at its root not just bringing food into the clinical system but bringing the local food into it. The most nutrient-dense food to the people who need it the most.”
LSG prioritizes community, working directly with around 100 local farmers and producers, offering everything you would find in a farmers market. As Meyers observed, farmers want to sell to locals, but they don’t always have the means. LSG helps bridge that gap. Each person referred to GroceryRx receives $450 of fresh food through the program, with 75% being local produce, generating income for the local food system.
“It’s important to note how much money this is putting into our local economy,” asserted Meyers.
She cited some of the program’s positive outcomes as part of the reason LSG able to continue GroceryRx. The average patient loses nine to 10 pounds and sees a reduction in LDL cholesterol, among other wellness metrics. And because of LSG’s close partnership with clinics, it is given the information it needs to address health issues.
After patients graduate from the GroceryRx program, health care providers follow up with them to evaluate progress. All graduates receive additional resources, including program continuation through Electronics Benefits Transfer/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program incentives and LSG sliding scale credits.
To learn more, visit facebook.com/LSGmobilemarket.
By Colin McCandless