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Removing Red Tape for Complete Streets Projects in Small Rural Communities

Walking and biking are two of the most common forms of physical activity. With rural obesity and physical inactivity rates higher than the state and national averages in Louisiana, building complete streets, which provide safe avenues for exercise and active transportation like walking and biking, can help rural Louisiana residents be more physically active. However, many small towns face large barriers when it comes to improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure. To address some of those barriers, the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team worked with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) to make complete streets funding more accessible for rural communities. As a result, Transportation Alternatives Program applications for communities under 5,000 residents increased more than 500% in just one funding cycle.

Read about the first biennial Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit!

Addressing Long-Standing Rural Food Pantry Needs in Louisiana

Food pantries in rural Louisiana face significant challenges building capacity and bridging nutritional gaps for their clients. To address these challenges, the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team assessed needs, set nutrition standards, purchased cooling and storage equipment, and provided hands-on support to food pantries in 6 rural parishes: Assumption, Madison, Morehouse, St. Helena, Tensas, and East Carroll. As a result, 13 food pantries are equipped to serve healthier foods to 7,580 clients in rural Louisiana.

Read about how we are improving rural food pantries

SNAP Match Program Helps Increase St. Helena Farmers Market Customer Base by 112%

Market match programs provide dollar for dollar matches on eligible foods for customers using nutrition assistance benefits like SNAP or FMNP. Market match programs generate more business for local farmers while empowering low-income shoppers to buy more fresh local foods by increasing their purchasing power. Within just six months of launching their SNAP match program, the St. Helena Farmers Market experienced a whopping 112% increase in average customers per market. Since then, the market has grown to an additional market day and received continued support for market match through Louisiana’s new state funded Greaux the Good program.

Learn more about market match at the St. Helena Farmers Market!

Rural Community Convinces Dollar Store to Stock Fresh Produce

The small town of Crowville, LA has one corner store, one restaurant, and one dollar store – but no grocery store. Before Summer 2022, Crowville residents who wanted fresh fruits and vegetables had to travel to neighboring Winnsboro. Thanks to a group of passionate community leaders, the local Dollar General now features fresh produce, healthy snacks, and healthy shopping resources from the LSU AgCenter’s Geaux Shop Healthy program. The produce section is so popular, the store restocks twice a week and still sells out.

Read how Crowville residents brought healthy retail to their town!

Louisiana Charitable Food Summit Seeks Solutions to Food Insecurity

Louisiana has some of the highest food insecurity and obesity rates in the country. While food pantries across the state work hard to provide a reliable source of nutritious foods to clients, their communities’ needs often outpace their capacities and resources. To help build a stronger, more resilient network of support for Louisiana residents experiencing hunger and food insecurity, the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team hosted the first biennial Louisiana Charitable Food Summit in May 2023. Nearly 150 attendees came together to learn, network, and share best practices and resources. Since the summit, the AgCenter has begun hosting quarterly networking calls to continue tackling common challenges within the charitable food system.

Learn more about the 2023 summit!

Learn how to get involved in the next summit!

Youth Leaders Help Make Streets Safer in Assumption Parish

Local youth leaders played an instrumental role in making Assumption the second parish in the state to pass complete streets plans for communities under 5,000 residents. Complete streets are roadways designed to serve the needs of all road users including pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities, and motorists. These new complete streets plans can help reduce the risk of traffic deaths and promote economic vitality in Assumption Parish.

Read about youth-led complete streets efforts in Assumption Parish

St. Martin Gets Parish-Wide Park Fitness Flair

LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Jessica Randazzo partnered with St. Martin Parish Government to bring StoryWalks and fitness signs to parks across the parish. The fitness signs feature distance markers, simple exercise prompts for all fitness levels, and health messages while the StoryWalks® offer an innovative way to get people of all ages moving by combining literacy with physical activity. The first round of StoryWalks® and fitness signs were installed at 9 parks in the parish with plans to expand to more parks in the future.

Read more about new park features in St. Martin Parish!

Louisiana’s First Parish-Wide School Food Pantry Launches in St. Helena

Students in St. Helena Parish experience poverty and food insecurity at higher rates than both the national and state averages. To help ensure that students and their families have reliable access to food, the St. Helena Parish School District teamed up with LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to launch the first-ever parish-wide school food pantry in Louisiana. Now 1,173 students and their caregivers can use the grocery store style food pantry completely free of charge.

Read more about the parish-wide school food pantry!

Rural Community Center Transforms into Community Food Hub

Food access and food insecurity are old problems getting new solutions in Morehouse Parish thanks to a partnership between the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities program and the Robinson-Williams Community Center (RWCC). Beginning in 2020 when the AgCenter helped RWCC become a regionally recognized food pantry, the partnership has grown to include a community garden, a Farm Fresh Meals after-school program, Grow a Row to Share donor and distributor status, and a SNAP authorized farmers market.

Read more about the Robinson-Williams community food hub!

HYPE Youth Coalition Receives $25K Grant for Youth and Community Development

The East Carroll Parish Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) coalition received a two-year, $25,000 grant from the National 4-H Council and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2022. The grant was used to send HYPE members to youth leadership summits in Washington, D.C. and purchase playground equipment for a community development project started by the coalition.

Read more about East Carroll HYPE’s grant!

Grow a Row to Share Connects Home Gardeners with Food Pantries

Fresh fruits and vegetables are often in short supply at local food pantries. To help get more fresh produce into the hands of Louisiana residents experiencing food insecurity, the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team developed the Grow a Row to Share program. The program connects home gardeners and local farmers with charitable food organizations like food pantries. During the first 6 months, 8 pilot sites distributed 1,103 servings of fresh produce. That’s enough for over 275 people! The program launched statewide in March 2023 and is currently open to any home gardeners, farmers, or charitable food sites in Louisiana.

Learn more about Grow a Row to Share!

Register for Grow a Row to Share!

Painted Stencils Provide Safe Alternative to Playgrounds During COVID-19

Children need 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day to stay healthy. However, in 2020, students across Louisiana were unable to use outdoor playground equipment during the school day due to COVID-19 safety precautions. To ensure that students still had access to fun physical activity, LSU AgCenter nutrition agents teamed up with community partners to stencil painted play spaces across the state.

Read the full story here!

Shreveport Community Health Hub Becomes More Accessible to Residents with Disabilities

The Mooretown Community Faith Garden serves as a local community health hub for residents of Shreveport, Louisiana. In May 2021, a steering committee consisting of staff and volunteers from the LSU AgCenter, Mooretown Community Faith Garden, We Grow Together coalition, and LSU School of Allied Health came together to install a communication board, garden tool practice station, a sensory garden with fragrant herbs, and game stations including non-verbal hopscotch and a number stomper at the community garden. With the addition of more inclusive features, adults and children with disabilities can now feel more welcome to enjoy community assets available at the garden including fresh produce, preventative healthcare, physical activity, and community involvement.

Learn more about how Shreveport residents created a more accessible community health hub!

Virtual Walking Group Helps People Stay Active During COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing made previously established exercise groups difficult or impossible to maintain. As a result, LSU AgCenter nutrition agents in Ouachita Parish started a “Workout Wednesday” virtual walking group to provide adults with online accountability partners when they could not exercise together in person. The group met twice a month on Wednesdays to follow an indoor walking routine, hear healthy eating tips, and watch cooking lessons. According to a survey with 60 participants from the program, 100% of respondents said they were more motivated to be physically active after a virtual session and 75% were very likely to be physically active on their own after participating in the group.

Read more about the virtual walking group!

St. Mary Parish School Gardens Foster Adventurous Eating and Life Skills

Research shows that garden-based learning improves nutrition awareness, life skills, school achievements, social connections, and health and wellness among students (Source: Cornell University). These advantages are especially important in parishes like St. Mary with higher-than-average rates of childhood poverty and food insecurity. Thanks to support from community grants and school and AgCenter staff, students at J.S. Aucoin Elementary and Franklin Junior High are full steam ahead with garden-based nutrition lessons.

Read more about Franklin Junior High’s garden program!

Read more about JS Aucoin’s school garden program!

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture