Doctor’s Orders: For Better Health, Put Your Hands in the Dirt

Health care workers in this Virginia town are prescribing gardening time.

“Eat more fruits and vegetables,” says every doctor everywhere—the kind of vague advice easily forgotten when passing apples on the way to the end-of-season ice cream sandwiches on sale at the store. So a clinic in Virginia has decided to get specific. Health care providers tear a page from a prescription pad, then walk with their patients out the back door and into what they say is the best kind of produce aisle and pharmacy: the garden row.

Health care, healthy eating, and nutritional subsidy programs commingle in The New River Health District Farmacy Garden in Christiansburg, a new collaboration between the Virginia Department of Health’s New River Health District and Montgomery County’s Virginia Cooperative Extension. The way it works is simple: Volunteers do all of the gardening work, and after an hour pitching in to weed or harvest or seed new crops, the gardeners—patients of the clinic and women who qualify for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children—go home with a bag of fruits and vegetables.

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