Grace Peterson, a nutrition agent with the LSU AgCenter, is a key player in the development of Healthy, Green and Into the Outdoors – an obesity prevention project focused on developing better access to healthy foods in some of Shreveport’s most financially challenged neighborhoods. Nearly $600,000 of the $1.4 million project will come from Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana (a state-wide, multi-million dollar grant program launched earlier this year by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation). Below, Grace discusses how many state residents encounter barriers to healthy food access, and how newly funded community gardens will help overcome those barriers…
Healthy Food for All!
By Grace Peterson
We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat our vegetables – but do all Louisiana citizens have access to healthy food? Sadly, no, they do not. A lot of people may not understand how that’s possible – how residents in our state have trouble finding and purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. Let me explain.
There are actually four major barriers preventing healthy food access. The first is physical – many of our residents live in neighborhoods without a grocery store close by. These neighborhoods are commonly referred to as “food deserts”. The second barrier is financial – many Louisiana residents can’t afford healthy food. Then there are two knowledge barriers – knowing what is a healthy diet and knowing how to prepare healthy food.
Through the Challenge Grant Program, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is encouraging collaboration among agencies to find solutions to these critical problems. For our part – the Healthy, Green and Into the Outdoors initiative – we’ll be doing things like building community gardens, hosting free garden-based nutrition education classes and providing other active living opportunities. And that’s just the beginning of what we can do by working together.
Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover tours community garden.
An earlier initiative we modeled the Healthy, Green and Into the Outdoors program on is called FIT for Kids, developed by the LSU AgCenter in Shreveport, LA. FIT stands for Food Initiative Taskforce, which includes several hands-on programs providing education in gardening, nutrition, and food preparation. We used multi-levels of community outreach, from volunteer training, peer mentoring, and neighborhood involvement. Participants even learned how to take on the system themselves and advocate for healthy food access, using what they now know about the food industry and the barriers that prevent people from getting healthy food.
The FIT for Kids model, developed at the Valencia Park Community Center in collaboration with the City of Shreveport, is also a stellar example of how we can use a neighborhood food hub to incorporate other integrated programs that can further impact communities at many levels. We developed, for example, a children’s after school program, a summer program for middle and high school kids, the Urban Youth Farmer program for older teens, the Veggie of the Month program for both youth and adults, and adult volunteer training. Participants in these programs reported many positive changes in attitudes about healthy food – such as eating and preparing it and even growing their own bountiful gardens. And best of all, they report feeling empowered to make changes, in their own neighborhoods and beyond.
FIT for Kids participants rake in collard seeds from their community garden.
The FIT for Kids model provides the foundation for an important aspect of the Healthy, Green, and Into the Outdoors Obesity Prevention Project funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. Over the next two years, eight Garden Learning Communities will be developed to serve as neighborhood food system hubs, where a comprehensive systems approach will tackle barriers to fruits and vegetable access and active lifestyles.
Education, neighborhood involvement, and community collaboration are a winning combination that can lead to a healthy future for our citizens.
If you would like to learn more about FIT for Kids programs, you can visit our blog: FITforKids
And see the youth giving a tour of their garden at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEbjT2cOc7s
Dr. Grace Peterson is an Associate Extension Agent with the LSU AgCenter in the Northwest Region. You can contact Dr. Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.