The Rapides Foundation awarded four new grants to local communities that will give Central Louisiana residents better access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The town of Oberlin and cities of Leesville and Natchitoches will use their Foundation grant funding to start or enhance existing farmers markets while the LSU Ag Center will start a “Grow Your Own Garden Program” with families in Central Louisiana.
The projects are part of the Foundation’s Diet and Physical Activity Initiative, which promotes healthy behaviors through increased healthy eating and physical activity opportunities in Central Louisiana.
“Research tells us that a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are great contributors to poor health, premature mortality and morbidity,” said Joe Rosier, president and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “Our grants are designed to increase healthy eating and active lifestyles. This ties in to our mission, which is to improve the health status of Central Louisiana.”
The Foundation began the Diet and Physical Activity Initiative after results from its 2005 Community Health Assessment showed, among other things, that 31.3 percent of Central Louisiana adults were obese and that 30.6 percent of Cenla children were overweight. The assessment further showed that one in three adults do not engage in any physical activity, more than a third of local children watch more than three hours of TV a day, and less than 32 percent of adults eat the proper daily requirement of five servings of fruits and vegetables.
Just last month, Business Week listed Louisiana as the laziest state in the union in terms of the amount of time spent “doing sedentary activities compared with activities that require more physical effort, such as relaxing and even working.” The magazine, drawing on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that Louisiana residents spend eight hours and 44 minutes each day sleeping, three hours and five minutes watching TV, and 29 minutes relaxing and thinking. In addition, Louisiana residents on average spend less time working than all other states.
How does The Rapides Foundation hope to change these statistics? By awarding grants that are designed to increase healthy eating and active lifestyles. It is working closely in the schools as well as in communities throughout the area. (See story to find out more about our work in Central Louisiana schools)
The four new community grants address a problem that is seen nationwide. People know they need to improve their diets, but various barriers prevent them from doing so. Central Louisiana residents tell the Foundation that they want to eat healthy. But they also say they don’t have time to cook, so they too often drive through fast-food restaurants. Others point out that fresh produce is miles away and out of walking distance. Also, many people don’t even realize they should be eating other vegetables besides the starchy potatoes and corn.
“We live in a society where it’s easier for someone to grab a bag of chips and a candy bar. We want to change that and make the convenient choice the healthy choice,” said Akeshia Singleton, program officer for the Diet and Physical Activity Initiative.
Rosier explained that farmers markets have multiple purposes. They can change the “culture of eating” by introducing people to different types of healthy foods. They also have an economic impact by giving local residents a place to sell their produce.
The community garden concept not only gives residents a supply of seasonable fruits and vegetables, but it also encourages exercise as they work in their gardens, he said.
These four grants, worth approximately $50,000 each, are the second round of community grants under the initiative. The communities and organizations will hold events throughout the year to draw residents to their farmers markets. Some of these events will be held during Turnoff Week in September and April.
City of Leesville ‘Get Healthy With Vernon Parish Produce’ project
The City of Leesville will use its grant funding to start a community garden project in downtown Leesville. The project, called “Get Healthy With Vernon Parish Produce,” will include an education component in which adults and children will receive gardening instruction and nutrition education. Young people and volunteers will serve as garden managers, and the produce grown in the garden will be sold at the Third Street Farmers’ Market in downtown Leesville. The market has been open for two years and offers local farmers a free-of-charge location to sell their produce to the community.
City officials said volunteer managers and children will receive hours of outdoor activities, another health benefit. The project will teach young people the mental toughness and discipline it takes to maintain each garden season and plan for the next. Officials will combine these benefits with teaching the health benefits of different fruits and vegetables that are available year-round in Vernon Parish.
City of Natchitoches ‘Eat Healthy Natchitoches’ campaign
The City of Natchitoches will use its grant money to expand the existing Cane River Green Market, the city’s only local farmers market. The project will create the “Eat Healthy Natchitoches” campaign, which promotes healthy eating by providing low-income populations access to fresh produce through a voucher program.
Outreach efforts will educate lower income residents in the parish on the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and the accessibility of these items at the local farmers market. The goal is to reach approximately 5,000 residents in this outreach.
The project will hopefully increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables consumed by parish residents, primarily by those of a low-income level who maybe could not afford fresh produce on a regular basis.
Funding will include nutrition education to seniors and a promotional campaign.
LSU Ag Center’s “Grow Your Own Garden Program”
The LSU Agricultural Center will implement the “Grow Your Own Garden Program,” which will teach local families how to grow and maintain vegetable gardens. The project brings these classes to different communities, so that more people can be reached. Beginning gardening classes will offer hands-on activities that engage participants. Another class will teach families about safe canning and preparing vegetables from their home garden.
After taking the classes, families will receive take-home kits with the supplies they need to start a small gardening project. Parish extension staff will conduct follow-up home visits to ensure that families’ gardens are being properly maintained.
Town of Oberlin’s Open-Air Farmers Market
The Town of Oberlin will use its funding to establish and promote an open-air farmers market near the Allen Parish Courthouse. The new market will provide the community with access to seasonal produce such as fresh tomatoes, potatoes, melons, mustard and collard greens, turnips and cabbage at a centralized location within the parish.
Special activities will be promoted throughout the year, such as trips to the market by schoolchildren and demonstrations in good gardening practices. Town officials say a centrally located, viable, attractive farmers market within the parish would help bring renewal to its Main Street and be an outlet for marketing homegrown products throughout the area.
Studies show that the nation’s children are getting heavier, and getting heavier at even younger ages.
But what’s most alarming about the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States and in Central Louisiana is the impact this extra weight is having on their health. Preventable diabetes in children and other deadly diseases are becoming all too common in children. Unless something is done, these statistics will continue to increase.
That’s why The Rapides Foundation believes children are the “most critical population” it must work in, said Joe Rosier, president and CEO of the Foundation. And the most logical place to do this work is in Central Louisiana schools.
“We believe the best partner and best venue is the schools,” Rosier said. “We want to provide the schools with additional resources to be more effective in the efforts they are already implementing.”
So beginning in August, 84 K-8 schools in nine Central Louisiana school districts will continue their work to promote healthy eating and physical activity through a multi-year grant from The Rapides Foundation.
Building on work that began in 2009 with planning grants, the schools will implement programs designed to teach students about a healthy lifestyle as well as to increase access to both healthy eating and physical activity.
Schools will implement one of two coordinated school health model programs in their classrooms, either Coordinated Approach to Child Health, also called CATCH, or Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids, which goes by the acronym SPARK. Schools that implement SPARK will also implement Healthy Lifestyle Choices.
CATCH is an evidence-based, coordinated school health program designed to promote physical activity and healthy food choices, and prevent tobacco use in children from preschool through grade 8. The program is currently being implemented in over 7,500 schools and after-school programs across the United States and Canada.
SPARK is a research-based organization dedicated to creating, implementing, and evaluating programs that promote lifelong wellness. SPARK strives to improve the health of children and adolescents by disseminating evidence-based physical activity and nutrition programs that provide curriculum, staff development, follow-up support and equipment to teachers of Pre-K through 12th grade students.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Healthy Lifestyle Choices is a national program that empowers youth with the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices throughout their lives. Through school-based curricula, after-school/summer camp programs and media, Healthy Lifestyle Choices helps youth eat healthier, get active, avoid harmful substances, and stay safe.
Schools will once again seek to involve students’ families and their communities by holding Turnoff Week events Sept. 20-26 and April 18-24, 2011. Turnoff Week is a nationally recognized week that encourages people to engage in healthy activities and spend quality time with their families, without being sidetracked by electronics and gadgets. Last April, thousands of Central Louisiana students and their families participated in this week by keeping track of their TV-free activities, joining in on family walk nights and attending free fitness classes.
“We hope this September students and their families turn off their TVs and computers once again and instead spend time together being physical active somehow,” said Akeshia Singleton, program officer at The Rapides Foundation. “Walk around the neighborhood together. Play basketball together. Whatever you choose, make it active and do it together.”
In addition throughout the school year, Central Louisiana third- and fourth-graders will be taught the Student Media Awareness to Reduce Television (S.M.A.R.T.) curriculum, which is designed to motivate children to reduce their television watching and video game usage.
The effect of physical activity and healthy eating extends further than the body. The positive effect also reaches the mind.
“Improved nutrition and physical activity at school yield better academic performance,” Rosier said. “There is even an immediate impact on creativity shown directly following any physical activity in children.”
Students are not the only ones who will benefit from these grants. Teachers and school staff also will be involved in staff wellness programs through the year. This includes professional development opportunities, where food service staff will be able to receive membership to the School Nutrition Association. SNA is a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. It is considered the authority on school nutrition.
In addition to membership, food service staff will also complete online training and earn certification from the association. They will also participate in the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. Fuel Up to Play 60 is a school-based program developed by The National Football League, National Dairy Council, and your local Dairy Councils. Fuel Up to Play 60 helps students eat healthy and stay active by empowering them to make smart choices about their nutrition and physical activity.
Finally, schools will use part of their grant money for school environment improvements, such as new or improved walking trails, playground areas, bike racks, school garden projects and fresh fruit and vegetable tasting stands and snack areas to be used by students and school staff alike.