Building a Culture of Health: Part 1
Active Living/Healthy Eating Task Force Making A Difference
Note: On Oct. 28, Spartanburg was named a 2015 winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize. In becoming one of just eight communities nationwide to earn the designation out of more than 300 applicants, Spartanburg was recognized by the leading health philanthropy in the country for its years of work in addressing health outcomes countywide. While this work has brought dozens of organizations and hundreds of people together, the effort has coalesced around five broad areas: Active Living/Healthy Eating, Access To Care, Behavioral Health, Healthy Birth Outcomes, and Smoking Reduction.
This week we will share what we hope will be a concise yet informative five-part look at the progress that has been made over the past several years in each of these five focus areas. At the end of the week, we will then share a link to an online poll that will allow the public to decide which of the five focus areas will receive the $25,000 award that came with the Culture of Health Prize.
Active Living/Healthy Eating
Not long ago, if you lived in Spartanburg’s Northside or any one of several other high-poverty neighborhoods around Spartanburg County, preparing a healthy meal would have been a major chore. Not the actual cooking. Just being able to find and purchase anything resembling fresh produce. For far too many Spartanburg residents, this would have required an impractically long walk or an expensive cab ride to the nearest full-service grocery store.
Indeed, the Northside was labeled a “food desert” meaning that fresh fruits and vegetables were not accessible to its residents, who had only a convenience store and a liquor store within a half-mile of their homes. But that has changed, first with the creation of a mobile market and then with the opening of Harvest Park, which not only is serving as a food haven but also as an anchor for a neighborhood renaissance and a robust new community-wide conversation about diet and access to healthy food.
Harvest Park is home to the Hub City Farmers Market (HCFM), the Monarch Café and an urban garden whose produce is sold on site. HCFM also operates the mobile market, which travels across the county selling fresh produce in neighborhoods and at businesses. When the mobile market debuted in 2012, it made 34 stops. This year, it is on track for about 400, and demand continues to rise.
The Farmers Market, meanwhile, has gone from a 28-week schedule two years ago to being open for 39 weeks this year. To go along with its expanded calendar, the Farmers Market has partnered with the United Way of the Piedmont to greatly expand the purchasing power of people who need it the most. Thanks to funding from the United Way, the Farmers Market offers “Double SNAP” purchasing for people who qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Every dollar a person spends in SNAP benefits at the market is matched, effectively doubling their purchasing power. As a result, more SNAP dollars are spent at the farmers market than any other farmers market in South Carolina.
Providing greater access to farm-fresh produce is just one of many initiatives taking root. As Laura Ringo, the Executive Director of Partners for Active Living (PAL) said, “There is no one single answer. It’s 10,000 things at once.”
And it’s dozens of organizations making healthy eating and active living a priority. Local school districts have joined the effort in a significant way. Spartanburg School District 6, for example, has revamped their entire approach to food service and are now preparing homemade meals with fresh produce and ingredients instead of the traditional school lunches that rely almost entirely on frozen and processed foods. Spartanburg School District 7, meanwhile, has implemented a “smart snack” policy that significantly curbs the amount of sugary snacks provided to younger students.
Elsewhere, more than 80 childcare center directors throughout the county have received training in healthy eating and incorporating physical activity into their curriculums. And the Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation Department has committed to providing fresh fruits and vegetables to children who attend their after-school programs. And this is just the start.
“Our goal is to have access to healthy foods and active living opportunities within a ½-mile of every resident in Spartanburg,” said Ringo, who chairs the task force working on healthy eating and active living issues in Spartanburg. “Setting that goal is an interesting and different way to talk about our goals and efforts that have been underway for a number of years. It really is an effort to tie together a lot of work already underway related to the way our community is designing itself to be healthy.”
Just as with healthy foods, an array of efforts are moving related to active living, perhaps none more important than the building momentum around the development of additional walking and biking trails. Already, PAL has worked with other funders to install five bike-sharing stations in the city, the number of users of local trails is skyrocketing, and a long-term plan is emerging to build a connected countywide system of walking/biking trails that would include multiple access points to the county’s breathtaking rivers or “blueways.”
“The blueways effort has the potential to really differentiate our trail system from others across the region and nation,” Ringo said.
To that end, the task force Ringo chairs is exploring how best to share that long-range trails plan. If it is selected to receive the cash award from the Culture of Health Prize, it would use the money to create a new interactive mapping tool that would provide information about both existing and planned trails and routes.
“There is a lot of thought being put into how and where all the connections are going to happen,” Ringo said. “I think people will be very excited about the plan, but creating a tool that will allow people to see the plan is critical to understanding it.”