5 Healthy Happenings in Savannah

“Eat your veggies so you can grow up to be healthy and strong. You want that, right?” Of course! Who doesn’t want to be a healthier version of themselves?

image of ChooseMyPlate.gov iconMost folks know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables will make them healthier. Catchy messages encourage us to take healthy action. For example, USDA ChooseMyPlate recommends that we make half our plate fruits and vegetables. Yet despite these clever reminders, Georgians only eat about 1 fruit and 1 vegetable a day (CDC, 2013) and according to the F is in Fat report, national adult obesity rates are holding steady.

[clear]Why? An estimated 23.5 million Americans (2 million Georgians) have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They live in food deserts, food swamps, or might even face food apartheid. Families are listening to health messages, but they face very real obstacles like cost, transportation options and distance to grocery store. This keeps them from translating what they want and know into action, such as eaingt at least five fruits and vegetables a day so they can be healthier.

So . . . now what? We design opportunities so all families can “Eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day.”
Here’s 5 healthy happenings in Savannah, Georgia working to do just that:

1.Let’s EAT healthy, PLAY often, and CREATE Community!
2. Forsyth Farmers’ Market Bring It Home
3.  Forsyth Farmers’ Market Double your SNAP Dollars
4. Forsyth Farmers’ Market Mobile Market
5. Community Gardens

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1.Let’s EAT healthy, PLAY often, and CREATE Community!

Eastside residents mapping healthy places

This summer, I collaborated with Denise Grabowski of Symbioscity, and Cristina Gibson of Coastal Health District to plan and facilitate four community forums in the Eastside and Westside of Savannah. In the first round of community meetings, residents mapped existing and potential healthy places in their neighborhoods. After sharing and listening with their neighbors, residents listed three (3) ways their community wants to improve opportunities for healthy eating. Top shared concern across Savannah: “We want fresh fruits and vegetables.” This was expressed through requests for neighborhood grocery stores that service the community’s nutritional and economic needs, spaces to grow food, farmers markets that come to them, and healthful options in close-by corner stores.

[clear]The second round of meetings created space for community residents to plan their action. After individual and collective reflection on how they can help their community, residents drafted community action plans – vision, action steps, and resources. A sampling of next steps included:

  • Recruit neighbors to support the new community garden at Central Baptist Church Health and Wellness Community Center.

  • Identify student organizations interested in a community garden on Savannah State’s campus and work on creating a plan to present to administration.

  • Participate in local neighborhood association meetings to learn what residents want in mobile farmers market.

With a do-able plan, some identified resources, and most importantly each other, residents will continue to work for healthier choices across Savannah.

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Forsyth Farmers’ Market
With an unwavering commitment to increased food access in Savannah, the Forsyth Farmers’ Market provides not one, but three healthy happenings:

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2. Bring It Home

Forsyth Farmers’ Market’s Bring It Home creates opportunities for community members to “bring home” knowledge of healthy living, including the selection and preparation of nutritious foods and physical activity. A Healthy Savannah grant funded bluknowledge to design and deliver 13 Bring It Home events for the Market.

Bring It Home Participants at St. Mary's Community Center

Three (3) Bring It Home events transformed the Forsyth Farmers Market into a fun-filled, scavenger hunt where over 420 shoppers experienced healthy recipe demonstrations, learned about Market vendors and foods, and earned tokens to buy foods sold at the Market. Survey results (N=103) revealed that 85% of participants agreed they learned about the foods sold at the Market and learned new ways to help their family eat healthier. Also, 56% of participants were first-time Market shoppers and 86% of participants planned to shop at the Market within the next couple of months.

The ten (10) Healthy Food Education classes engaged 127 participants in healthy eating activities across five (5) St. Joseph’s/Candler and City of Savannah community centers. They learned the nutritional value of local, seasonal foods sold at the Market. They also learned to prepare easy, healthy recipes: Healthy Vegetable Soup, Healthy Yogurt Parfait with a Homemade Granola, and Healthy Peach Salsa.

Survey results (N=112) revealed that more than 86% of participants agreed that they learned new ways to help their families eat healthier, 72% were new to the Market, and over 50% planned to shop at the Market within one month.

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3. Double your SNAP Dollars

Given the ongoing Farm Bill discussions, SNAP continues to trend as a hot topic. As our public deliberates our ability, obligation, and approach to support those in need, 14.5% Americans have struggled to make ends meet and feed their families enough to grow up healthy and strong (USDA, 2012).

The recent coupling of food security and food access conversations has led some to consider restricting SNAP-eligible foods. Such policies might increase the health of Americans, but the Forsyth Farmers’ Market takes a more empowering approach. Thanks to the Wholesome Wave Georgia Foundation and the many sponsors, donors, and friends of the Forsyth Farmers Market (it’s a matching grant), 35.5% of Savannah residents can choose to purchase healthy foods for themselves and their family (City Data, 2013).

A recent SNAP study reports that most families try to provide balanced meals, “but emphasize that they would shop differently—buying fresh vegetables instead of frozen, or leaner cuts of meat or fish—if their food budgets permitted (FNS, March 2013).” Not to sound too “if you build it, they will come”, but by providing incentives for healthy choices, people will choose them. Last year, the Market doubled $22,000 SNAP/EBT. This year, they are on track to exceed this total, with $22,000 SNAP/EBT doubled to date. That means that in the last two years, nearly $100,000 will have been spent on local, healthy foods.

Oh SNAP!

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4. Mobile Market

Meet people where they’re at. Literally . . . or should I say geographically. Earlier this month, Gulfstream (as part of their Live Well Be Well campaign) granted the Forsyth Farmers Market with $90,000 to design, build, and um drive a mobile market around Savannah! (That’s your cue to get out your seat and do a little dance of joy . . . I mean it!)

Toe-tapping Tidbit: To start, the Market wants to set up shop in a few neighborhoods in the Eastside and Westside of Savannah.

Shoulder-bouncing Benefit: Double Your SNAP/EBT dollars will be in effect!

Hip-shaking Hooray: Community is part of the process. The Market wants Eastside and Westside residents to share their vision for the mobile market. When and where should the mobile market set up shop? What foods do you want to eat? What should the mobile market look like? And most importantly, what fresh, local food shopping experience will keep you coming back to eat the goodness of the earth?

Stay tuned: Savannah’s fresh food movement is rollin’!

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5. Community Gardens

The final focus is on folks who are digging in and growing their own fruits and vegetables. Last year, the City of Savannah passed a community garden policy. It encourages groups of residents and local organizations to transform vacant lots into garden beds where food can be shared with their neighbors. Several neighborhoods have taken the city up on its offer. The Hudson Hill Community Garden should be nearing harvest time and the Wilshire Estates Gardens has been planting seeds of intergenerational change with youth partners  – students of Windsor Forest High School.

Other garden projects include the long-standing, ever bountiful community garden across from Starfish cafe and the yummy, yet educational garden at Shuman Elementary. My favorite new project is the two-month old garden at Central Baptist Church Health and Wellness Community Center in Hitch Village. For years, members have been offering health screenings, healthy food education, and fitness classes. As if they weren’t already getting their hands dirty, they have created yet another the opportunity to connect community to food.

This blog post is part of a series. Check out Part 2: 3 Moves Toward a Healthier Savannah and Part 3: Supporting Healthy Changes with Policy.

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