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Increasing Healthy Living in North Carolina Communities:
Eat Smart, Move More Community Grants

Cabarrus County Produces Fresh Food for its Citizens

Cabarrus County Health Department received a 2012-2013 Eat Smart, Move More Community Grant to work with the Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA) to help churches in their area start community gardens. Through this grant, CHA set out to address obesity, and increase availability and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in various communities throughout the county.

The Cabarrus Health Alliance’s mission is to achieve the highest level of individual and community health through collaborative action. Through this grant CHA aimed to empower members of African-American churches in rural areas of the county to increase the availability of fresh produce for their members. With the name recognition that the Cabarrus Health Alliance carries around the county, church leadership was enthusiastic about accepting the opportunity to better their congregations and communities. Eight sites around Cabarrus County received supplies to build a garden. Each site was given four cedar garden boxes, gardening equipment and seeds. Classes on composting, gardening and healthy cooking were also part of the program. Each church identified a gardening champion and gardening teams to work in their garden. Garden champions are volunteers who received training from the Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension and provided guidance on location of gardens and garden technique, and they were available for additional technical assistance as needed. Five of eight sites were in a designated food desert according to the Economic Research Service and the US Department of Agriculture. The implementation phase of the Eat Smart, Move More Gardening program started in January 2013 and is still being operated, as it is self-sustaining at each site. Each site has individual methods for fund raising and contributions, but all will be sustainable for many planting seasons to come. Many are associated with church-wide health committees and have organized policies and procedures much like the other ministry areas of the church.

At one site, Grace Lutheran Church, Pastor Reverend Donald Anthony had grown a home garden for years, and he shared his produce with members of the church that did not have direct access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This program has led to a shift in his personal garden ministry, from merely providing a resource to teaching and encouraging others to grow their own through the use of the community garden. Ten of his church members have stepped up since the inception of this program to become involved in the leadership of the gardening committee; the youngest was sixteen years old. According to Pastor Anthony, the program has been a huge success in educating the community and congregations at each site, even before the first piece of produce was harvested. “Our members are very excited about it,” he said; “I talked about it on Sunday. A lot of them were like, ‘When are we going to be able to do that class?’”

With the dedication and hard work of all participating faith-based sites, every group experienced similar positive results. Some sites took a community-based approach due to the lack of gardening knowledge or availability of their congregation members; whereas other sites’ garden contributors were solely within their respective congregations. As a result of the program’s success, outreach opportunities are occurring at some sites. For example, through cooking lessons on steaming and roasting, one of the sites is able to offer fresh vegetables prepared in healthy ways to members of the community.

Another garden site recipient has a cross-generational focus; garden volunteers teach elementary-aged children the importance and value of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. By working in the garden, children get to see where their food comes from and are more open to try new foods. These immediate changes have impacted many congregations and communities already, but the sustainability of each site is even more valued as a part of the Eat Smart, Move More Community Grant Program. Each site was provided information and coaching on the sustainability of their individual gardens. All sites have resources through this program and their churches, to continue the existence of the community gardens for seasons to come. Fundraising efforts, as well as community involvement in Cabarrus County, will continue to make this program a success for many years.

Partners for this project included:

  • Eight funded churches
  • Cabarrus County Health Alliance, Healthy Lives Healthy Futures Program
  • Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension Service
  • Cabarrus County Food Policy Council

There is no way to truly capture the value of this program or quantity of people it has already and will continue to impact, as it will continue to enrich the lives of congregations and communities in Cabarrus County for many more years to come. With resources from the Cabarrus Health Alliance and the Cooperative Extension in place across the county, this program will continue to be an effective way of increasing the availability and desire for fresh produce and gardening throughout Cabarrus County.

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