Many of Dr. Jenneffer Pulapaka’s patients have told her they don’t “eat healthy” because they don’t know where to go shopping for affordable produce, or it’s difficult for them to afford vegetables on a limited budget, or they have transportation issues in getting to where vegetables are available.
So the podiatrist, her office staff and some friends decided to plant a U-Pick vegetable garden beside her practice, DeLand Foot & Leg Center, on North Stone Street in DeLand.
In February, the team planted cucumbers, tomatoes, collards and mustard greens, radishes, carrots, and several varieties of lettuce. The mix of crops could change, depending on how well these do.
The plantings were done in four 3-foot-by-6-foot beds, one 4-foot-by-4-foot bed, and a pair of 5-foot towers. Pulapaka, her staff and even some patients help tend the garden. She estimates the garden can produce about 600 pounds of produce a year.
On April 26, Pulapaka announced the garden was open. Her patients are invited to come and pick whatever veggies they want, at no charge.
“I want patients to have access whenever they feel comfortable,” she said. “I want to make it accessible, and being comfortable is part of that.”
Pulapaka also is urging other physicians to create their own gardens to benefit their patients.
“If all the physicians in the area who have ground would plant a garden, then we would be able to feed a lot of people, and the cost of setting it up is not very much,” she said. “The idea isn’t to feed everybody, but to start a conversation about feeding people.”
The garden is just one part of a multi-pronged approach Pulapaka is taking to making fresh, nutritious options available to more people.
Patients can be given prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables, and then take those prescriptions to partnering markets and produce stands to receive free or discounted produce. There are three locations that are direct partners with the “Rx: Veggies and Fruit Patient Program.”
The direct partners include the Artisan Alley Farmers Market, which is held most Friday evenings. The market is where patients can increase the purchasing power of their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Access Bucks Program, which provides a one-on-one match for Florida-grown fruits and vegetables, making them more affordable and accessible for low-income families. (Contact Pulapaka’s office for free vouchers.)
The other direct partners are The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, 434 S. Woodland Blvd., DeLand, where fresh produce is available 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9-11 a.m. Friday; and Stoltzfus Produce, 474 S. Spring Garden Ave., DeLand, which has $1 items every day.
According to Pulapaka’s office, other locations in DeLand that often have discounted fresh fruits and vegetables include two Winn-Dixie stores, both Save-a-Lot stores, DeLand Natural Market, Common Ground Farm, and the Farmers Market at the Volusia County Fairgrounds.
Elsewhere in West Volusia are Fancy Fruit and Produce in Orange City, DeBary Farmers Market, Lake Helen’s Market in the Park at Blake Park, and Vo-LaSalle Farms in DeLeon Springs.