In this article:
|Elementary School Takes Hands-On Approach to Nutrition Education|
|Madison Parish Residents Enjoy the New and Improved Fairgrounds Park|
|Rural Farmer's Market Accepts EBT Benefits in St. Helena Parish|
LSU AgCenter partnered with J.S. Aucoin Elementary School to create a Healthy Communities coalition with the goal of making the healthy choice the easy choice for students and their families. Over three school years, the parish has been awarded more than $14,000 in funding through United Health Care, 4-H Food Smart Families grant, Walmart 4-H Food Smart Families grant, and Healthy Communities mini-grant to give this rural community the tools to create a fresh produce oasis in the middle of a food desert.
According to a 2013 Pennington report, one in three Louisiana children are overweight or obese. Louisiana has one of the highest adult obesity rates in the country with a rate of 36.8%. St. Mary parish’s adult obesity rate is significantly higher than the state average. In response to these statistics, this program is designed to equip students with healthy living tools that they will be able to carry with them into adulthood. A healthy relationship with food is developed from childhood. Students will finish the program feeling more confident in their ability to pick healthy foods, grow their own produce, and prepare simple, healthy and cost-effective foods with their families. Of the 276 students enrolled at J.S. Aucoin, 98% are economically disadvantage. In addition, most of the students are food insecure and live in a food desert5. According to USDA Economic Research Service, a food desert is defined as an area with significant number of low-income individuals that have limited access to healthy foods5. These students may not get fresh produce outside of school meals.
J.S. Aucoin’s methods of intervention were determined from community forums and healthy community coalition meetings. The major barriers identified were all related to exposure to healthy, fresh foods. The coalition’s goals were to increase nutrition knowledge of youth and families, increase likelihood of youth choosing healthy foods as snacks, create school garden to produce enough produce to serve in cafeteria. School garden has been built and maintained by students and community partners, water fountains have been improved, Smarter Lunchrooms strategies have been implemented, and garden-based nutrition has been incorporated into everyday science lessons.
As of February 2020:
Students have indicated both an increase in nutrition knowledge and application of the knowledge as a result of the healthy community program. The early successes of the projects have allowed the project to expand efforts into more classrooms. The school has also allowed parent workshops on healthy lifestyles to be conducted as a result of the successes the school has already seen. A sustainability community forum will be held this year to strengthen and increase community involvement. Based on these results we hope to expand efforts and continue to make this school a healthier community.
In April 2018, the Madison Parish Healthy Communities Coalition in Tallulah, Louisiana completed their first park revitalization project. What was once a place that attracted illegal activity due to years of neglect has been transformed into an award-winning community destination for social and physical activity.
According to County Health Rankings, Madison parish ranks 64th out of 64 Louisiana parishes for health outcomes and has an adult obesity rate of 43%, making it the least healthy parish in the state. With 41% of parish residents living below the poverty line, increasing physical activity is not as simple as encouraging individuals to join a gym. To address this issue, the LSU AgCenter worked with parish partners to establish the Madison Healthy Communities Coalition. Through a community forum in 2016, the Coalition developed strategies to enhance the nutrition and physical activity environment in their community. [A community needs assessment OR Forum results] also identified numerous barriers to improvements in the health and wellness of residents, including safety issues with the walking trail and sidewalks, the high cost of healthy foods, and children not eating healthy school lunches.
Community members identified the lack of community facilities for physical activity as a major barrier to living a healthy life in Madison Parish. The Coalition developed and voted on a proposal to revitalize an unused park space known as “the Slab”. With support from the Mayor’s office and local law enforcement, the Coalition worked together to conduct assessments of the area, participated in a Cromer Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) workshop, and developed a proposal for new park equipment and signage. Additionally, the coalition planned a stencil project to decorate the concrete slab with painted playground stencils, which may also promote play.
The Fairgrounds Park Project was completed in April 2018 and has transformed into one of the main destinations for community engagement and physical activity. New picnic tables, basketball goals, playground stencils, benches,trash cans, and a shade structure were installed to create a more inviting place for residents to gather and be physically active. The city has hosted several community events, such as a 3-on-3 basketball game, Back to School Circus, and 4th of July Celebration. The City of Tallulah was recognized by the Louisiana Municipal Association and received an Honorable Mention award for this project.
The Madison Healthy Communities Coalition has sustained a partnership with the Mayor’s office in the City of Tallulah to implement policy, system and environmental changes. Key members of the coalition also attended a Sustainability Forum hosted by the LSU AgCenter to learn best practices on how to strengthen the coalition and increase engagement. The City of Tallulah is currently working with the Madison Parish Coalition on a downtown walkability project to encourage physical activity and safe routes to public places.
"“A healthy community makes a strong city, and a strong city makes a strong parish, and that makes the entire state better.” - Yvonne Lewis, Secretary to the Mayor of Tallulah, LA"
To change behavior and promote healthy eating, the St. Helena Parish Healthy Communities Coalition is increasing access to healthy foods in the Greensburg area where over 40% of citizens reside. In partnership with the Louisiana Initiative for Empowerment (L.I.F.E.), the St. Helena Healthy Communities Coalition established a new Farmers Market in Greensburg, Louisiana. In January 2018, this Farmer’s Market started accepting EBT Benefits and Senior Citizen Vouchers, which further expanding access to fresh, locally grown produce to more residents in the parish.
According to County Health Rankings, St. Helena Parish ranks 47th out of 64 Louisiana parishes for health outcomes, making it one of the unhealthiest parishes in the state. To address this issue, the St. Helena Healthy Communities Coalition was convened to improve the nutritional and physical activity environment in the parish. The Coalition is comprised of community residents, as well as representatives from parish government, education food retail, USDA Rural Development, and health care. A community forum prioritized an approach to increase healthy food access througheconomic development.
The St. Helena Healthy Communities Coalition and the Louisiana Initiative for Empowerment (L.I.F.E.) worked together to develop vendor guidelines and a vendor application form to reinstate a farmer’s market that had been inactive for several years. The St. Helena Parish Farmer’s Market launched November 21, 2017 at Turner Chapel AME Church in Greensburg, LA, and has continued to be held every Wednesday from 8 AM to noon. In January 2018, the Farmer’s Market expanded its impact by accepting EBT Benefits and Senior Citizen Vouchers. To create awareness of the new farmer’s market, banners, flyers and weekly notifications via email and social media have been distributed to all residents in St. Helena Parish.
Since the St. Helena Farmer’s Market opening in November 2017, more than 100 residents have visited to purchase produce from five local vendors. All booths were attended by small farmers, bakers, and canners. Vendors report nearly selling
d out of their produce, which has encouraged them to continue to participate in the weekly farmer’s market.
The St. Helena Farmer’s Market continues to be held every Wednesday at Turner Chapel AME Church starting every spring with the support of the church, L.I.F.E. and Southern Ag Center Extension agents.