By Jason Von Kundra from Sprouting Hope in Marion, VA

As the snow continues to melt and we continue to harvest winter greens from the garden, I have been taking some time to reflect on last year and our impact on people’s lives. We know this impact every day, because we see how lives are transformed in our work. But how do we track and communicate this impact?

The qualitative is just as important as the quantitative. It’s the stories, along with the hard numbers, that people connect with most. This year I started doing volunteer spotlights to show the faces of our participants and the transformations they experience. and We have a diverse group of participants: folks receiving mental health support, homeless, unemployed, blacks and whites, and all ages from 4 to 87. All of whom participate because of a collective need for fresh healthy food.

Our impact can be best measured by how lives are transformed to become healthier through more exercise and improved diet. Many of our participants lose weight, as much as 30 pounds, have more energy, and feel better. All these results can be hard to track. However we do are best to quantitatively measure what we can. All Grow Appalachia sites track pounds of produce, number of participants, etc. What other measurements are worth tracking and how is this information communicated?

We work toward a results-based approach rather than a program-based approach. A program-based approach is focused on the activities rather than lasting change. For example, I have been to yoga classes and even own a handful of yoga DVDs. However I don’t practice yoga. Teaching a gardening class and distributing gardening tools is a great program but the impact only happens if your participants garden more as a result. Thus, tracking how many classes are taught is not enough to show the result.

The life expectancy is significantly lower in Central Appalachia compared to national statistics. Our impact is best measured in our ability to increase physical exercise and consumption of fresh produce through gardening. By tracking volunteer hours in the garden we know how much increased exercise is a result of our program and by tracking pounds of produce distributed, we can calculate increased produce consumption. Our intern, Shauna, produced this infographic to show our impact in 2015 or see a shorter version below.