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Local WIC clinics can play an active role in building systems that increase access to healthy food in rural areas.
Recently 12 local WIC agencies from rural and urban areas throughout Washington got the opportunity to connect with local food systems partners to promote fruits and vegetables in their communities. These 12 project sites were chosen following a competitive grant process funded by a larger grant to the Washington State Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program (WA WIC) from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
These innovative projects focused on increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for WIC clients and community members. WIC agencies and community partners tailored their projects to the unique needs and resources of their communities. Projects in Klickitat, Kittitas, King, Pacific, Wahkiakum, and Okanogan Counties focused on providing gardening space, materials, and teaching gardening skills. Other sites in Pierce, Clark, and Spokane Counties sought to increase WIC client access to fruits and vegetables via farmers markets or community supported agriculture projects. In an effort to increase cooking skills, projects in Kittitas, King, Grant, Clark, and Kitsap Counties included cooking and food demonstration classes.
Six of the 12 funded projects were in rural areas of the state. Local project spotlights that provide detail about the 12 projects can be found here: https://sites.google.com/a/uw.edu/wic-local-projects-grants/home/local-project-spotlights. Below are brief descriptions from a few of the rural projects.
Just Grow It! – This Cathlamet project exceled at creating strong and lasting partnerships with a diversity of local organizations and community members, including WSU Extension Master Gardeners and 4-H, Wahkiakum County Health and Human Services, the local food bank, the Town of Cathlamet, and the Wahkiakum School District. The primary focus of this project was to create a community garden in their town park. The mayor stated that there has been less vandalism in the park since the garden when in, and others involved reported that the park is used more and there is a greater sense of community.
Cook Fresh – In this innovative project, Suquamish WIC worked with the Suquamish Tribe and Persephone Farm to provide Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes and cooking classes to WIC families during the growing season. Participants exchanged recipes and ideas for using more vegetables during the class. The availability of fresh vegetables was identified as particularly important in this rural community, where access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be challenging. The project was so successful that the Tribe is looking into expanding the program to all tribal members.
Delicious and Nutritious – “Go to where they are” is Cindy Johnson’s motto. In this project, Johnson, a WIC dietitian at Mattawa Community Medical Clinic in Mattawa, partnered with the Big Bend College and the Even Start program to incorporate nutrition and cooking classes into the literacy curriculum. She reports that the classes were very well received. One student said she used what she learned in class to answer questions on her GED test. Johnson received a SNAP-Ed grant to continue the project in an adjacent community.
People Learning Agriculture and Nutrition Together (PLANT) – In this innovative and multi-faceted project, Family Health Centers WIC in Okanogan partnered with the Okanogan County Community Action Council to provide gardens for 10 WIC clients during each of the two growing seasons of the grant. New gardeners were provided with gardens, gardening education, and paired with garden mentors. Project staff also recruited volunteers and worked with local growers to glean fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms and orchards for donation to the local food bank. The new gardeners said they consumed more vegetables as a result of the project. The group received a grant from the Walmart Foundation to continue the project and expand it to include food preservation classes.
For all projects, this grant provided an opportunity to develop new partnerships with community organizations and individuals. Partners were diverse and included WSU Extension, schools and universities, farmers, farmers markets, city government, food banks, county health departments, local social service and food system nonprofits. Project coordinators and community partners said that the partnerships formed as part of these grants were instrumental in getting the work accomplished and they created opportunities for future work together. Many reported that this was easier in smaller communities because people wear multiple hats and have more than one role, which made it easier to get the work accomplished. Mary Goelz, director of Pacific County Health and Human Services and involved with the Healthy Beginnings project, summarized the effect of the project in her rural community in this way:
I felt that one of the most important outcomes of this project related to the development of new community partners. We began to meet with groups that we had not previously been involved with, such as the Master Gardeners and a community garden group in the north end. We also strengthened partnerships we did have, particularly with the WSU extension office.
The projects were evaluated in aggregate through surveys of WIC clients and WIC agency coordinators, as well as through interviews and surveys of local project coordinators and community partners. Evaluation results showed that the projects broadened and strengthened professional networks and that these partnerships led to greater opportunities and enhanced the work.
Read more about the Local Projects.
Featured: December 2012
WIC Agencies, Food Assistance Agencies, Non-Profits, Farmers
Erica Lamson, Research Coordinator, UW Center for Public Health Nutrition, 360-610-9231