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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 27

Farming for Life to use veggies as low-cost diabetes treatment

By Kasey Bubnash

Santa Barbara County doctors are testing out a new prescription medication to treat residents struggling with type 2 diabetes: veggies. 

Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, a Santa Barbara-based diabetes research and health care clinic, was recently awarded a four-year U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to continue its investigation into ways to better help local low-income diabetes patients navigate their symptoms. 

The $400,000 grant, which requires matching funds to be raised locally, will entirely support the official launch of Farming for Life, a program that will use locally grown veggies as a low-cost, alternative treatment option for locals living with diabetes. 

Through the program, doctors will be able to prescribe and provide patients with vegetable-based diets, according to David Kerr, director of research and innovation at the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. A healthy diet can decrease the severity of risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes, Kerr said, and it's much less expensive and causes far fewer side effects than most diabetes medications. 

Individuals with diabetes have health care costs that are twice as high as those without the disease, according to the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. Farming for Life, a program that will use locally grown veggies as a low-cost, alternative treatment option for locals living with diabetes, aims to ease that financial burden.

But not everyone can afford to purchase low-calorie, organic vegetables every week. 

About 21 percent of Santa Barbara residents are food insecure, according to the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. More than half are overweight or obese, and the local incidence of diabetes and prediabetes is even higher than the state's, which lands at 55 percent. Individuals with diabetes have health care costs that are twice as high as those without the disease, Kerr said. 

"So we're hoping the use of medical prescriptions of vegetables will reduce the economic burden [on diabetes patients] by improving control and not having to buy multiple, expensive medications," Kerr said, "and also by just in general being healthier."

The institute is hoping to recruit at least 400 adults with or at risk of contracting type 2 diabetes over the next several years, Kerr said. At recruitment and over the course of programming, measurements will be taken to determine changes in diabetes control, food security, and overall health. 

Organic vegetables grown at Fairview Gardens and other local farms will be free to participants in exchange for health and research data. Each week, Farming for Life participants will present their veggie prescriptions to staff at the Fresh Food Pharmacy, located in the Unity Shoppe of Santa Barbara, where they will then select a week's worth of vegetables–enough to feed their entire families. 

Residents throughout Santa Barbara County are welcome to participate, Kerr said, but the institute is still looking for organizations interested in partnering with Farming for Life to bring the program to North County. The institute needs North County doctors, farmers, and food transporters and distributors in order to set up a satellite location in the area. 

"And actually we really want to do it in the north because that's where there are really disportionate rates of diabetes," Kerr said, "especially among the Latino population."

Aside from recruitment, Kerr said the Farming for Life model is ready to go, and he hopes to have the program up and running early in the new year. 

Most of the program's kinks were worked out during the institute's three-month pilot, during which 23 adults with diabetes were prescribed and provided with veggies. Kerr said participants saw real results–weight loss, improved control over diabetes symptoms, and lowered blood pressure. 

That's what happened to Elizabeth, a Lompoc resident and diabetes patient who participated in the Farming for Life pilot program. 

Elizabeth, who asked to have her last name omitted for medical privacy reasons, said she largely ate carbohydrates and calorie-dense foods before joining Farming for Life. Her sugar levels were always too high, and she had been planning to quit her diabetes medications. She heard about Farming for Life, and decided to go organic. 

At first, Elizabeth said cooking vegetable-based meals was challenging for her whole family. But soon, as she got more familiar with cooking vegetables, she said she started seeing results. Her body started feeling full without carbs, she started to crave veggies, and she started to lose weight. Even her children started eating healthier, and although the pilot program is over, Elizabeth said she still buys and cooks organic vegetables every week. 

Soon, she said she might be able to quit taking some of her diabetes medications. 

"It's fun and that's what I like," Elizabeth said, adding that while she was skeptical of the program at first, she hopes other diabetes patients will try it out. "So now I'm the voice for them, and I'm trying to recommend the program to my friends." 

Potential program participants who are food insecure and have diabetes or prediabetes can contact Mary Kujan, project coordinator for Farming for Life at (805) 682-7640, Ext. 243, or

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