Sarah E. Cunliffe, Administrative Specialist, MRC Unit Coordinator
Woodford County Health Department
In 2014, Woodford County (KY) Health Department won the National Association of City and County Health Officials’ (NACCHO’s) Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Challenge Award and launched Step by Step to a Healthier Woodford County Thru Square Foot Gardening. Through this award, MRC volunteers aimed to encourage healthy eating habits and physical activity by introducing their communities to Square Foot Gardening (SFG). The effort promoted SFG as a convenient and cost-effective method of providing one’s family with fresh produce. SFG requires minimal space and is an efficient way to grow fresh vegetables without weeds. Volunteers helped build raised beds for the gardens, demonstrated proper planting technique, and provided cooking demonstrations. In 2015, Woodford County won the NACCHO MRC Challenge Award again and expanded their initiative to schools in the county and integrated a physical fitness component based on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign!
Kentucky has the sixth highest toddler obesity rate and the fifth highest adult obesity rate in the nation. In Woodford County in particular, 35% of the population lacks physical activity, which is higher than the percentage of physical inactivity among adults in the state (29%); only 12% of adults in the county are meeting the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables and 7% are diabetic. Woodford County Health Department and the MRC sought to tackle these health indicators by bringing SFG into the classroom.
Woodford County Health Department partnered with nine public and private schools throughout the county. Each school received All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition by Mel Bartholemew and an SFG kit that included all growing mixtures, conduit vertical frames for growing beans, spring seeds, and some vegetable plants. MRC volunteers assisted with building 28 gardens for the schools and provided schools with materials to incorporate SFG into their curriculum. Students actively participated in planting and harvesting the vegetables and learned that gardening is a fun and easy way to stay physically active. Children took home vegetables that were ready to be harvested before the end of the school year; teachers also used the vegetables in demonstrations on healthy eating. The short-term goal of this effort was to increase students’ knowledge about healthy eating and the importance of exercise and bring that knowledge home to their parents.
For the Let’s Move Campaign! MRC volunteers were tasked with setting an example for their family, friends, community, and workplace by becoming more physically active. These volunteers encouraged their surrounding communities to join the Let’s Move! campaign and take the pledge to improve their diet and integrate physical activity into their routine.
Community members shared what they were doing to improve their health with the Woodford County Health Department:
“Continue with gym 4-5 times a week. Working on running from a 5K to a 10K! Need to still improve eating.”
“I found an exercise class that I truly love. Had to try several to find a fit, but I loved it so much that in June I went and got certified to be an instructor. I teach 2-3 classes a week. My love for Zumba and my students keep me motivated. From December 2014 to December 2015 I have lost 25 pounds. I feel so much better!”
“My kids help me with work in the yard, weeding, planting and raking leaves at the end of the year. They enjoy being outside. We are becoming an active family that enjoys the outdoors.”
A fourth-grade class even contributed their insights on healthy living:
“Everybody should know not to smoke, or take drugs, not eat bad foods for example chips and greasy food all the time. When you do not eat healthy, it can cause a lot of problems. Need to exercise a lot because it can help with weight or to be healthy.”
“We should be active for 60 minutes.”
“Kids need to learn about their body and how to eat healthy and how to get a good night’s sleep.”
One of the key lessons MRC volunteers learned during this project was the discrepancy between the planting and harvesting season and the school year. The school year ends in late May or early June and, in 2015, the harvesting season ended after the student’s left. This year, one school combated this problem by having each student plant carrots that would finish growing in time for the school year’s end. Each student labeled their plot of carrots.
The county’s school teachers and the community partners that provided the planting supplies at minimal cost are essential for this project’s continued success. The future of the partnership will rely on the continuing strength of community alliances. With funding from another NACCHO MRC Challenge Award, Woodford County Health Department will create a support group for community members who want to improve their health. The group will be guided by a coach trained by the National Wellness Institute and each participant will fill out a 90-page health journal to help them on their path to health. The book focuses on a variety of areas of healthy lifestyles including stress management, relationships, and physical activity. Woodford County Health Department MRC volunteers will also reach out to local church wellness groups for their collaboration and participation.
Woodford County has already seen improved health among the community since bringing SFG to the county and looks forward for continuing the journey towards a healthier county and state in the coming years.
Learn more about NACCHO’s MRC Challenge Awards at http://nacchopreparedness.org/naccho-funds-167-innovative-community-projects-through-mrc-challenge-awards/.