Clark County program works to boost food access, active lifestyles

A health district group is working to help area farmers connect to people seeking locally produced food items and craft plans for Clark County employers to encourage active commutes and meetings. The efforts are part of ongoing work to address barriers to wellness in the community.

Ashley Seibert, health planner and Clark County Creating Healthy Communities coordinator, said the grant-funded group continues to work to remove barriers to wellness in the community through encouraging exercise and helping people connect to community gardens, food pantries and farmers markets.

Clark County ranks as having the poorest health outcomes in the entire state, according to the Clark County Combined Health District’s 2022 community health assessment. The report states that 11% of the county’s population is food insecure, meaning a portion of the county lacks reliable and sufficient access to nutritious food.

The county’s population also has an obesity rate of 41%, with 31% of residents reporting being physically inactive, according to the report.

Creating Healthy Communities is partnering with Red Bib, a farm-to-table platform that will coordinate the delivery of fresh, local food items to a person’s residence or scheduled pick-up at other set locations in the county.

The initiative is poised to benefit area farmers and reduce food waste, and the program will put forth some of its annual grant funding toward covering costs of fees for the service for income-qualifying people, according to health planner Gracie Hemphill.

The contract for the partnership is still being drafted, but the partnership is expected to be implemented this year, Seibert said.

The partnership with Red Bib is another step in the program’s work to connect people to area garden spaces and farmers markets. Clark County currently has more than five community gardens.

The program’s Visioning Garden alone produced more than 2,500 pounds of produce for farmers markets, youth centers, schools and food pantries in 2022.

“Clark County has a long history of poverty, poor health and limited food access,” Seibert said. “The collaboration with the community gardens will help improve upon the food access disparities in the community.”

The health district this year will also begin plans to encourage workers to bike or walk to work and implement “active meetings” where co-workers and their managers can walk outside to discuss their work. Water bottle filling stations will also be installed for health district workers. Seibert said.

With the COVID-19 shutdown and companies’ pivot to work-from-home models, many workers have become used to a more sedentary lifestyle than what they experienced before.

“It’s not good for you to be sitting all day,” Seibert said. “We want to definitely encourage everybody to get up, get their blood flowing.”

Staying active and eating better may lower a person’s chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, stroke and certain kinds of cancer, but healthy living is also good for the mind and can help you feel more energetic, Seibert said.

Later this year, the Creating Healthy Communities program will work with Second Harvest Food Bank, which serves thousands of families in Clark, Logan and Champaign counties, to update its nutrition policy to incorporate more produce and other items.

The program will also help the food bank fund infrastructure needs, like the addition of new freezers of fridge units.

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