For twenty years, the United Community Clinic—a free medical center operated by the University of Pennsylvania at First African Presbyterian Church (4159 Girard Avenue)—has treated hypertension patients from some of West Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. The doctors and medical students who work on the Clinic’s hypertension team have seen the tragic impact of poor nutrition on the health of low-income Philadelphians, many of whom lack basic access to fresh foods.
Now, Urban Tree Connection is developing an innovative health and nutrition partnership with First African and the United Community Clinic that has the potential to impact the long-term prognosis for low-income patients with high blood pressure, no health insurance, and limited access to fresh, healthy foods.
Starting in the fall of 2014, UTC Founder and Executive Director Skip Wiener and Program Assistant Lisa Barkley—herself a patient at UCC—began working with hypertension patients at the Clinic to organize a support group focused on good nutritional habits. This spring, with the help of volunteers from Vanguard and Leadership Philadelphia, UTC will plant a farm and container garden on vacant land next to the Church.
Ultimately, the goal is to develop an interconnected treatment system that helps address the root causes of patients’ high blood pressure, reducing the need for medication and doctor’s visits. Hypertension patients who join the UTC support group receive nutrition education, healthy recipes, and hands-on cooking lessons through weekly “Dinners at the Clinic” prepared in the church kitchen.
Once the adjacent farm is up and running, patients will have access to fresh produce and will be encouraged to work on the farm, ensuring that they get regular physical activity. Robin Embick, a pre-med student at Bryn Mawr College, will work as a liaison between UTC, patients, and doctors so that care is effectively coordinated.
“We see this project as a natural next step for UTC,” says Wiener. “For 25 years, we’ve focused on restoring communities to good health through gardening and greening. Now we have a chance to impact the physical health of individuals within those communities in a real and measurable way.”