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Food as medicine


Story by Bailey Gilliam 

Life in the Lowcountry seems effortless, thanks to the tranquil, beachy atmosphere and year-round vacationers flooding the county at any given time. But unfortunately, hardship is alive and well, even in this paradise we call home. Luckily the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic (VIM Clinic) was established in 1993 by Dr. Jack McConnell with the mission to understand and serve the health and wellness needs of the medically underserved population in the area. VIM Clinic provides free medical, dental, mental health, vision and prescription drug care for those in the community who are uninsured or underinsured and earn less than 250 percent of federal poverty levels. More than 650 volunteer physicians, specialists, nurses, dentists, technicians, social workers, interpreters and administrative personnel provide care across more than 28,000 patient visits annually with 23 medical specialties and five chronic disease management clinics. Though this organization is to thank for many strides in local healthcare, it has created a new initiative that could potentially change the way we address food insecurity.

The VIM Clinic Farm-acy and Wellness Market is a new food sustainability initiative within the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic Wellness Program. The Farm-acy includes eight indoor hydroponic systems that produce several thousand pounds of fresh, leafy vegetables yearly. And the Wellness Market is the point of distributing these greens and other food to patients. LOCAL Life spoke with Mick Miller, the marketing and events manager at VIM Clinic, to get a closer look into how the initiative came about, how it works and how locals can help.

The VIM Clinic Farm-acy and Wellness Market were created to address food insecurity found among VIM Clinic patients. “Many of our patients suffer from food insecurity, and none of our programs or medicines work optimally without good nutrition,” said Dr. John Newman, executive director at VIM Clinic. “We have consistently been able to supply non-perishable food to our patients, but when one of our local farming communities drops off fresh produce or fruits – it feels like Christmas at the clinic. The smiles that walk out the door are incredible. We wanted to see smiles like that every day.”

“The goal of this initiative is to grow and distribute diabetic-friendly food to patients of VIM Clinic to address food insecurity and encourage health and well-being under the umbrella of the VIM Clinic Wellness Program,” said Miller. “VIM clinic strives to support the community with locally grown, fresh produce 365 days a year.”

VIM Clinic understands the power of food. The expression “you are what you eat” certainly applies here. Benefits of the VIM Clinic Farm-acy and Wellness Market include food as medicine to address food insecurity, food as preventative medicine to encourage health and well-being, and nutrition as medicine in disease management and treatment. Food insecurity is a far more significant problem than people simply being hungry.

Through partnerships with The Deep Well Project, Second Helpings and others, VIM Clinic began distributing donated food to needy patients. “Dr. Newman began to explore other ways to address food insecurity among VIM Clinic patients, and with support from foundations and grants, we were able to install eight indoor-hydroponic systems from Fork Farm and begin growing leafy greens in the VIM Clinic Farm-acy,” Miller said. “The Wellness Market is the point of distributing these greens and other food to patients.”

The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry supports this initiative. It builds upon the distribution of diabetic-friendly food to patients through partnerships with The Deep Well Project, Second Helpings and the local farming community. Along with giving the produce to their patients, VIM Clinic can provide fresh leafy vegetables like kale, lettuce and collard to the community distribution partners at The Deep Well Project, Second Helpings and Sandalwood Community Food Pantry. Partnering with like-minded organizations is the smart way to maximize efforts and better the community.

But without volunteers, VIM Clinic wouldn’t exist at all. It has benefited from volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and pharmacists for almost 30 years as they care for those who live or work on Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands. “We had no idea how many gardeners, farmers, chemists and engineers were just waiting for us to ask for help with something that doesn’t involve being in the medical clinic,” said Newman. “Hats off to the growing army of volunteers at VIM Clinic with our new ‘Farm-Assists.’”

Readers can get involved by visiting to learn how to donate diabetic-friendly food to patients, volunteer or donate to the program. LL