How do we measure the impact our participation in Grow Appalachia has on access to healthy food? As important, how does that access have an impact on day to day family life? Do participants find themselves saving money? Are shopping patterns changing? If so, how? Are we buying other low sodium and low sugar foods?—preparing more meals at home rather than using vegetables as a side to processed meals?—finding healthy staples to go with increased access to veggies and fruits?
We ask ourselves these questions a lot, these days, as we plunge into our second summer with Grow Appalachia and work to integrate its resources and principles into our summer and school year children’s feeding programs.
This really hit home when a home visit to a participant’s garden revealed a proud profusion of greens. Then the teen family member shared how he best liked his lettuce—drenched in bacon grease from the morning’s breakfast.
This dovetailed with feedback we’ve gotten from people who have observed the Supper in a Sack program over the years. Through this highly successful program, families come together and cook a meal with healthy ingredients. They then take enough ingredients home to replicate the meal and, it is hoped, expand their family palates with tasty healthy options.
In principle and practice, Supper in a Sack (and the adaptation our friends in Mingo County, ABLE Families, have made with a youth focused snack program called Teen Cuisine) helps to introduce families to healthier eating. But we’ve also heard reports that the program can rely too heavily on ingredients that are hard to find or expensive.
The reason our Appalachian (and many poor) communities have the peculiar combination of children being both under nourished and obese, is that so many of the inexpensive staples—in particular processed starches like pasta—are also fattening. Even without the bacon grease, introducing more vegetables into a high sodium, mac and cheese world may not alter our families’ risks for diet related illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.
We are seeking good tools to assess not only families’ access to healthy foods—but their comfort in using them and the affordability of a range of ingredients. As a Keys 4 Healthy Kids community, we have been supplied with a number of tools for doing surveys of stores to measure the quantity and placement of vegetables and fruit. We have access to freezers that local Mom & Pop stores can receive if they commit to place fresh produce in a prominent place in their store.
But how do we establish a base line of what families already know to do with vegetables and how being a Grow Appalachia family changes their options? If anyone knows of existing studies or survey tools, we’d love for our data to be information we can compare to that of other communities. Most people can their green beans rather than eat them fresh from the garden, and somehow we suspect when those cans are broken open in the winter, artery clogging grease will be involved.
We don’t anticipate a food revolution taking over in one summer. It’s a stretch to think that tofu fever will infect Big Ugly Creek. But we might see what would happen if we could order Quinoa or Amaranth in bulk and have a Supper in a Sack workshop using that as a staple. We have access to unlimited whole wheat tortillas this summer through summer commodities. And one of our fellow Keys 4 Healthy Kids projects is the Common Ground Food Bank, that has already introduced whole wheat pasta to the monthly boxes of food it distributes to families. How can we introduce kitchen herb gardens (basil, chives, sage, rosemary, mint, etc) and encourage people to try a few leaves before they pour on the salt?
Any Grow Appalachia partners found good sites for bulk healthy staples (calling all Quinoa growers?) Or recipes that turn the garden harvests into full meals? We’ll be looking (and cooking) all summer and fall.