By Bruce Amaro
---- — Haverhill has long had a farmers market where residents can buy fresh produce grown locally.
Now, Merrimack Valley Hospital is planning its own version of the market — with the help of a city farmer.
Hospital officials said they are taking this unique approach to make healthy food available to patients and staff and impress upon them the need to eat healthy.
The “prescription’’ will be administered from 1 to 6 p.m. from July 9 to the last Tuesday in October outside the hospital at 140 Lincoln Ave.
“This summer, we are offering a new type of prescription: Vouchers that can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Kate Bailey, manager of community relations for Steward Healthcare Systems at Merrimack Valley Hospital.
“Through our partnership with Mass Farmers Markets, qualified patients and their families will receive vouchers from their primary care physicians with the ultimate aim of increasing the amount of nutritious fruits and vegetables in their diets,” Bailey said.
The hospital’s farmers market will be open to the public, but is geared toward patients. Patients’ vouchers will be honored at the hospital’s market as well as the larger farmers market downtown next to the police station.
Hospital officials said they hope the market will encourage qualified patients and their families to eat healthy if doctors prescribe certain foods as part of the patients’ health care regimen.
Marlene Stasinos of Chris’ Farm Stand and Silsby Farm on Salem Street in Bradford will run the hospital market. A member of the Team Haverhill volunteer civic group will manage the program.
“Kate (Bailey) had an idea that she formed with us and came up with the voucher idea that everyone liked,” said Jeff Grassie of Team Haverhill, who helps organize the downtown market.
“We’re still running our weekly farmers market downtown every Saturday through to the end of October,” Grassie said. “But this program (at the hospital) gives our efforts more reach into the community.’’
Farming for the past 25 years, Stasinos said she easily connected with Bailey’s idea to use locally grown goods to introduce healthier living.
“The fresh food brought to market near home has the most nutritional value and tastes better,’’ Stasinos said. “You can taste the difference and what they’re tasting is better health.’’
The hospital farm stand will start with early season vegetables, lettuce, garlic, strawberries, peas and early tomatoes, she said.
Bailey said the hospital hopes this program will encourage people to eat healthier and buy locally.
The hospital will enroll as many as 50 patients and their families in the farmers market program once their primary care physician gives them the prescription for a diet that emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables, Bailey said.
The patients whose doctors prescribe the program will receive vouchers to buy products from the farmers market. The farmers market vendors then send the vouchers to the state, which reimburses the farmer for the goods sold.
“By increasing access to and visibility of healthy foods, we hope to encourage healthy behaviors in our hospital and in the community,” Bailey said.
Access to the farmers market will be on the Groveland Street side of the hospital.