When Step by Step first started promoting wellness programs beyond our after school supper and summer breakfast and lunch efforts in the late 1990s, we asked families to work with their kids to come up with a simple but clear goal to improve their health each school semester. Many children pledged to “try more fruit and vegetables.”
Then came the challenge: where to find vegetables that were affordable and tasted good? The nearest grocery store is 12 miles away, a convenience mart connected to a gas station. Full fledged grocery stores are a half hour drive and even when a Wal-Mart was built 45 minutes to the south, the selection was slim, preservative laden and not particularly inviting.
Raising our own vegetables totally changes the equation as do the partnerships that have grown with our program. West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension service helped us put in a fruit garden with strawberries, blueberry bushes, Kiwi plants and pear trees to complement the raised beds supported through Grow Appalachia (they are also our source of training for Junior Master Gardener). Berea graduate Erin Finsel extended her year as a Compton fellow by becoming a summer VISTA and taught healthy cooking drawing from our gardens.
Most recently, on the strength of the foundation and partnerships we’ve developed through Grow Appalachia, we have been selected as one of nine new communities for the KEYS 4 Healthy Kids initiative based in Charleston, WV. The program is part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s national program Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities dedicated to reaching children who are at the highest risk for obesity on the basis of race/ethnic, income and/or geographic location. It is estimated that as many as 60% of all West Virginians will be obese by the year 2030 if present trends continue.
The four KEYS are:
- The Key to Knowledge emphasizes the importance of eating adequate fruits and vegetables, limiting, limiting screen time, engaging in regular physical activity and, eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages.
- The Key to Eating Healthy works with local merchants to sell fresh foods, build up farmers markets, engage community members in gardening projects and help children’s programs provide nutritious snacks and beverages. (Of course we provide a full healthy supper and a snack in our after school program each day).
- The Key to Youth Being Active focuses on revitalizing community centers (been there, done that since 1995), creating play spaces (yep, we’ve got swings, walking tracks, a bball court and encourage kids to run around every day), and assess local trails, sidewalks and street crossings (well…we’ve got a walking track but you really don’t want your little kids walking Big Ugly Creek road given the blind curves and the ways people drive.)
- The Key to Safety and Empowerment helps bring citizen voices to make our communities safer places to walk and play outdoors and remove barriers for use of local foods (such as our plans to have a VISTA work out the ways we can buy from our Grow Appalachia families to stock our pantry for our snack, supper and summer lunch and breakfast programs).
You can see why it’s a good fit for us and for Grow Appalachia and, why it’s going to be a great way to help our urban partner, South Park Village (described in our last blog) get their garden project off the ground. As one of the 13 KEYs communities over a six county region, we’ll work together to find and share activities that help increase families access to and use of healthy foods.
We could use our Grow Appalachia partners’ help in finding:
- Good assessment tools to document our families’ access to healthy food
- Strategies to sort through the economic and access barriers to cooking healthy (if the recipes to build on our garden yield includes hard to find or expensive ingredients, it ain’t gonna happen)
- Creative ways to promote food preservation and winter crops to stretch access to home grown food throughout the calendar year.
- And anything else you are doing to promote healthy living!
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