Our coalition, when formed, was and still is comprised of key partners concerned with the health and well-being of our community. One of the first priorities became the rampancy of diabetes in our community, not only in adults, but also for juveniles and how to curb that issue. Diabetes Prevention became our focus. We then began gathering data, additional partners, and started figuring out what can we do to advocate and change the community. We completed a CHLI study, found multiple food deserts, and found that there was land owned by the municipalities we could use. Then we branched out from food insecurity. We have developed an abandoned rail-line into a greenway, begun offering low-cost and sometimes free programming such as how to grocery shop and cook to manage diabetes or prevent, membership discounts to the Y to get people to develop more habits. Yet I digress, much of our research was poring through data gathered by the state regarding health coefficients deemed important by the TN Dept of Health.
Once we identified (through data gathered by the state and our own funded CHLI evaluation, we then approached the elected city councils and the county mayor. We proposed to individually what we found regarding food deserts and the rates of diabetes in our area and that we would like to build community gardens and begin a feeding program. In regards to the feeding program we targeted local housing authorities and surveyed the residents with children to see if they would take advantage of the feeding program. Our response with the councils was that the City of Athens drafted a provision for a community garden board. This board meets once a month. Our surveys for feeding assistance was favorable so we began both programs. Our group’s mission is to continually increase the quality of life for the residents of McMinn County by providing Diabetes Prevention Programming.
We have thus build 7 gardens, 1 Orchard using community build days with United Way of McMinn County, TN Wesleyan College, and various faith based organizations. We are feeding 300 kids per day in the summer, and 100 kids during the school year.
We’ve used data already being gathered on our county through the Health Department and through Coordinated School Health coordinators. We have actually seen a slight decrease locally in obesity rates and in pre-diabetes rates.
Sustaining the Work:
To sustain the work on the existing gardens we do the following: renting out beds in one garden provides us with a minimal income for upkeep of the beds and to purchase seeds. One of our board members donates his time to grow the seeds and do an annual plant sale, which provides other sustainable funds. For the upkeep of the garden lots, the YMCA barters memberships for families who will “adopt” a garden and keep it mowed and cleaned up. Our feeding programs are sustainable through the CACFP/SPFP sponsorship at the YMCA. By following Federal and State guidelines, we are reimbursed for supplies through the state and the program continues.
As a result of our efforts, our physical environment has fewer food deserts and access to fruits and vegetables has increased. Our community is rife with people diagnosed diabetic (14%) and as prediabetic (43%). While this numbers are alarmingly high, we have seen a slight reduction in these rates and we feel that our initiatives have helped reduce this number. (These two initiatives are two that are part of a much larger community effort to increase the overall health of our community through Diabetes Prevention Programming.)