Group Promotes Nutrition Program for West Southern Pines
A local program that promotes healthy, locally grown foods to residents in West Southern Pines has received a new grant to further study that goal.
Kathy Byron, director of the FirstSchool Garden Program of Communities in Schools of Moore County, said she was “absolutely ecstatic” to learn her organization had received a monetary boost from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation for an undisclosed amount.
“The Foundation has been funding us from the beginning, and the grant we received this past April, called the Strategic Planning: Healthy Food Access Initiative, will assist us in helping children and adults make better food choices,” she said. “It will also help us to change the way kids look at food.”
Byron said the grant, designed specifically to facilitate research toward the creation of at least three locally based food enterprises in West Southern Pines, will result in a “great boost” to the community.
“West Southern Pines is an area which studies show has an annual food expenditure of $2.5 million, yet there is no local grocery store or local food production,” she said. “Our goal is to create opportunities that would provide economic development and career pathways in the food industry while increasing residents’ access to healthy foods. It involves engaging youth and adults in the whys and hows of making healthy food choices.”
Byron called the situation a case of “food justice.”
“Food justice is when an area contains no access to healthy food, such as a grocery store,” Byron said. ”Many residents of the West Southern Pines area don’t have regular transportation to a supermarket, and the only food access they have is through a BP store. An important part of the work we’re doing is to make it possible for those with no transportation to obtain healthy food.”
Activities are already under way, Byron said, toward establishing a plan for dietary changes to take place in the West Southern Pines area.
“We have a community food survey under way to receive comments from West Southern Pines residents on the program, and we have assembled an enthusiastic steering committee of 25 community members representing virtually every civic and faith- based organization,” she said. “Plans are also being made for a communitywide festival to announce the results and to engage more residents.”
Dorothy Brower, a member of the Communities in Schools’ partner agency West Southern Pines Citizens for Change, elaborated on the three potential food enterprises being considered by the group.
“One of the three includes plans for a community garden located across from Southern Pines Primary School at the old Lawson Institute location, while another idea we are considering is the development of a restaurant,” she said. “We would also like to see a type of vegetable stand or farmers market that will be in walking distance for West Southern Pines residents. We are very hopeful that we will receive the full grant later this year and will be able to quickly initiate these ideas.”
Brower said the food initiatives would not only improve residents’ physical health, but also would help bring back “community spirit” as well.
“We as a community have lost a lot of what we consider the good, solid values that we had in our youth,” she said. “We see that rather than embracing each other, the youth of this community are destroying each other. One way to bring the people together and to also become more self-sufficient is through the shared gardening and the eating of locally grown foods.”
Fenton Wilkerson, general manager of the Sandhills Farm to Table cooperative, said that under the program, West Southern Pines residents “will be ‘pulling’ healthy food into the community as opposed to efforts by outsiders to ‘push’ healthy food into the community. This is a community based renewal and revitalization process, from the inside out.”
“This project will serve as a focal point and magnet to bring what was once a close- knit and self-reliant community back together in a cooperative process,” she said. “West Southern Pines has a long history of community businesses, and this is a way to revitalize both the community and the residents’ health. The program will unleash the community’s power to address their own problems rather than looking for someone else to solve them. In turn, this will encourage and allow the community to go on to identify and address other issues important to them.”
For eight years during the 1920s, Byron said, West Southern Pines was the only incorporated, predominately African-American town in the state.
“During this period, it had a town hall, government offices, and a number of food and other successful businesses. Today, the community has ‘very few’ businesses and no (stores specializing in) healthy foods.”
Byron said the FirstSchool Garden Program is “first of all” an obesity prevention directive.
“We are ultimately trying to guide the next generation of food consumers,” she said. “We are a locally based program trying to get locally grown foods into local school cafeterias. The end result would be a positive fossil fuel impact, with much less money spent on transportation to bring in food from out of the area.”
North Carolina currently spends $35 billion per year on food, Byron said.
“If 10 percent of that food was bought locally, it would help infuse the state with a $3.5 billion stimulus. Locally produced foods would have a tremendous positive impact on this community.”
Byron said she hopes the program will become a model for others to follow.
“The FirstSchool Garden Program is leading this initiative with the intent that the work we do here will serve as a pilot or ‘tool kit’ for other communities in the state that are involved in food justice and increasing access to local healthy food. This is about a neighborhood community seeking to improve its physical and economic health, revitalizing from the inside out through planning and taking steps toward the creation of a sustainable community food system. It involves engaging youth and adults around the whys and hows of making healthy food choices.”
In addition to West Southern Pines Citizens for Change, partner agencies for CIS include Good Work, Integrity Systems, Moore County Partners in Progress, and Sandhills Community College.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or email@example.com.
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