Community partnerships are harvesting health in Tulare County
The IssueResearch indicates that food insecurity (i.e. without access to a reliable source of nutritious food) is detrimental to a child’s developmental health. One in five children in California faces hunger daily, according to the California Association of Food Banks. In Tulare County, the number of children living in food insecure households is above the state average (29% compared to 22.9% of California; from Kidsdata.org). Additionally, the County has a high percentage of students eligible for free school lunch (74.53% compared to 58.13% of California). While poor eating habits and lack of exercise is a major concern for youth in the region, a primary issue is access to fresh fruits and vegetables needed for a healthy diet (Community Health Needs Assessment, 2016). Fueled with this critical information, key community stakeholders spearheaded a call to action, developing and implementing the Healthy School Farmer’s Market in schools where a high percentage of students participate in free or reduced-price meal programs.
What Has ANR Done?The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Tulare County has joined efforts with FoodLink- a local food bank, School Districts, and CHOICES After School Program- to provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables and promote physical activity with key nutrition messages monthly on two elementary school campuses.
The Healthy School Farmer’s Market has occurred for five years at one site and two years at the other. It is complemented by nutrition education that students and adults receive from the nutrition educators. The event welcomes students, their families, and community residents to enjoy taste tests, healthy recipes, nutrition information and access to fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost. To promote a healthy lifestyle, physical activity is offered using the CATCH curricula.
In order to generate interest in sustainable behaviors, a peer education program encourages youth leadership. Ten fourth grade Nutrition Ambassadors at each site are selected. These students receive nutrition curriculum and directions to assist in the Farmer’s Market including passing out hand sanitizer, bags, bag produce, recipes, and sharing nutrition facts about the fruits and vegetables being distributed. Flyers, signage, press releases and social media announcements are used to promote the Farmer’s Market.
Partnership leads to increased access to fruits and vegetablesThe Healthy School Farmer’s Market sustains efforts through youth involvement and community partnerships. Nearly 500 students and community residents have benefited from access to fruits and vegetables through ongoing multi-agency teamwork. Another benefit of the program is that Nutrition Ambassadors learn leadership and teamwork skills. One Fourth Grade Ambassador explained that "I learned how to be nice to the community and help [bag produce], and learned about fruits and vegetables.” Another Ambassador summarized that “I liked teamwork with each other.” Strong partnership efforts continue to support this initiative to build health, skills, and community through nutrition education. Consistent with the REAIM framework, this project will: continue to REACH large numbers of students, families, and community residents; EFFECT environmental-level changes shown to benefit a large group of individuals; which will be widely ADOPTED in school settings; and consistently IMPLEMENTED as intended; to produce long-lasting effects that can be MAINTAINED at a reasonable cost.