Navajo Nation Success Story
NAVAJO NATION—In the Navajo story of creation, the First Man and Woman emerged into the world alongside the first kernels of corn. But in Navajo Nation today, corn and other produce are nearly impossible to find. Over 75% of the Navajo population struggles to put food on the table, Native Americans are 60% more likely than whites to be obese, and the USDA has designated nearly all 27,000 square miles of Navajo Nation as a food desert.
Enter Wholesome Wave.
In 2015 we partnered with Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE), to launch a three -year Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) Program®. Participating healthcare providers at Community Health Centers treat patients battling diet-related disease by writing a prescription for fresh fruits and vegetables for the whole family.
But for patients on Navajo Nation, where diabetes is an epidemic, redeeming those prescriptions is far from simple. For many residents, groceries are a three-hour round trip drive away, and many households have no car.
We’ve innovated against these challenges, and have built networks of local partners to help gas stations and trading posts stock fresh produce, thus creating supply chain opportunities to meet the miracle of demand created by providing affordability. Rather than providing the usual bananas and potatoes found in most corner stores, we’re providing produce that’s fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate and locally grown. To that end, we support a mobile farmers market that lets local crops travel to customers, instead of the other way around.
Connette Blair’s Totsoh Trading post, in the town of Lukachukai, is the only store for many miles around. It serves as a one-stop shop for cleaning supplies, canned goods, roasted piñons and now vegetable prescriptions. Before FVRx came to town, Blair was dismayed to see processed food take center stage on her shelves.
“We sell a lot of lunch meat, bologna, cheese, chips,” Blair admits. “The chip delivery guy comes three times a week,” she says. But thanks to FVRx, she’s offering more fresh produce, too. Several times a week, Blair drives 75 miles each way to purchase products for her store.
“I’ll buy frozen corn, fresh corn, salad,cucumbers, bell peppers, chilies,” says Blair happily. “We’ve got cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, cassavas, strawberries, blueberries and grapes.”
Marinda, a Navajo Nation mother of two young girls, says FVRx has changed the way her family eats.
“With the program, I get to give my girls fresh fruits and vegetables,” Marinda says. “This summer we got to eat cantaloupes and berries. [In the past we couldn’t] afford all the ingredients, but now we can.”
At the Trading Post, Blair has become an enthusiastic FVRx champion, organizing cooking classes and recipe swaps. She even helps some customers with transportation. She knows that the journey to better community health can’t be undertaken alone.
“I want to encourage these families to come together,” Blair says. “Come and let’s exchange recipes and meet each other. I’ll tell you right now, Navajos don’t work alone. With this program, you can bring whoever you need. I want everybody to get involved.”