Diet program advantages Spanish-speaking migrants in Monroe County


Growing up, Leila Cassandra Bocanegra, 26, was used to eating the traditional Mexican food that her parents, immigrants from Monterrey, would prepare. She admits that part of the meal, consisting of lots of tortillas and bread and meat, was heavy.

With the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx), operated by Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension in Monroe County and running multiple clinics in the Finger Lakes, Bocanegra and her family have learned that it is possible to be healthy nourish while eating foods of cultural significance.

“You can still have the food you love, but you need to read the nutrition labels and have a balance,” said Bocanegra.

The Fruit and Vegetable Prescribing Program is a federal initiative launched in 2014 that aims to make fruit and vegetables accessible to underserved communities across the country.

Iluminada Vilca, Nutritionist at Cornell Cooperative Extension, has worked with the FVRx in Monroe County for the past four years. However, the participation rate has increased since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The program works by having doctors at participating clinics such as Finger Lakes Community Health and Wilson Health Center refer patients. Patients take courses at Vilca to learn how to read food labels, break food down and how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diet and how to exercise at home.

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From June 2020 to June 2021, Monroe County’s FVRx program must serve a maximum of 900 people, and to date they have served more than 500 people. The grant, which comes from New York State’s SNAP-ED, has been extended through June 2022.

“When we used to do it personally, we saw a need from Mexican farmers and migrant workers who went to the clinic and the doctors told them they needed more nutritional education,” Vilca explained. “Doctors refer patients, patients come to class, and we give them $ 15 vouchers that they can exchange for fruit and vegetables at the Foodlink trucks.”

Rosa Jaramillo, who has been linked to the program by her doctor because of obesity and diabetes, is grateful that it exists because she has been able to become healthier physically by simply choosing better foods.

“In the courses I took, I learned how to eat healthily, buy things that are healthy for me, study the labels of everything I buy, and also try new recipes to find new foods to eat and prepare, “said Jaramillo.

For the Bocanegras, Vilca’s FVRx classes have become a family affair.

“We look forward to sitting in front of the computer and doing the exercises, and it’s easier to have them through zoom. I have classmates who come to class while running errands or walking their dogs, ”said Bocanegras.

“When we have classes, all we give is what your body needs to strengthen the immune system,” said Vilca.

Vilca offers courses in Spanish and English. To receive a referral, you must be a patient at participating clinics – Finger Lakes Community Health and Wilson Health Center.

Natalia Rodríguez Medina is a bilingual reporter who works with Report for America to cover the Puerto Rican and Latin American populations for the Democrat and Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter at @nataliarodmed or send an email to You can support their work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.