Gillings Innovation Laboratory Sustainable Agriculture Project
The Gillings Innovations Laboratory (GIL) Sustainable Agriculture Project, Linking Local, Sustainable Farming and Health examined whether eating local foods can address obesity, the environment, and economic viability. The GIL has used an innovative array of approaches including case studies, documentary photography, and quantitative data analysis as researchers explored the agricultural transition in North Carolina as tobacco becomes less economically important and farms across the state and country grow larger and more industrialized. After three years of research, the GIL funding has spawned expanded research beyond what was originally defined, as well as incubated new projects with significant potential. Specifically, the GIL helped launch a number of studies including: an Economic Innovation Grant to link local growers with consumers using Women Infant Children’s (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program Cash-Value Vouchers; an NIH-funded study to help teenagers feel empowered about their future through exposure to career opportunities, agriculture experiences and eating fresh fruits and vegetables; and a study (funded in addition by NC TraCS) by Dr. Christopher Heaney, Kellogg Scholar, at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention to examine bacterial-resistant strains of MRSA. Heaney’s team is comparing the prevalence of MRSA in workers on sustainable hog farms versus those employed on conventional farms. The GIL has incubated other projects as well.
Researchers at HPDP were awarded an Economic Innovation Grant from the North Carolina Rural Center to launch a program aimed at helping consumers, specifically people using WIC Cash-Value Vouchers (CVVs), to buy local fresh fruits and vegetables. The project team is working with farmers in Warren County, NC, to bundle produce into packs that are priced to correspond with CVVs; these packs do not need to be bagged, measured or weighed, hence making the shopping process easier. A branding and targeted marketing campaign are helping launch the products offered in an independent grocery store and two corner stores for a 10-week pilot period.
Black Land Loss
Researchers from the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention partnered with attorneys from the Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP) to conduct a needs assessment of Black farmers in North Carolina. The needs assessment provided information to determine: (1) Whether land preservation needs, such as legal consultation, are being met, and if not, what needs exist and (2) The extent of mental health issues being experienced by Black farmers, especially those related to the loss of their land. The needs assessment was conducted in two phases. The initial phase consisted of interviews with a small group of Black farmers. In the second phase, a short survey was developed and administered to Black farmers throughout North Carolina.
Faith, Farming, and the Future
HPDP is leading The Faith, Farming, and the Future project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and is working with four churches in rural Warren County, located in northeastern North Carolina, to form youth action teams to identify critical challenges and opportunities in the local food and agriculture system. Business leaders and youth empowerment experts are coaching these teams to develop innovative solutions to improve healthy food access and physical activity through entrepreneurial efforts.
Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church Harvest of Hope Garden and Farm
HPDP partnered with Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Warren County to cultivate better health and improve access to fresh foods through a community garden. Funded though NCtraCS, the Harvest of Hope project created a church garden at Coley Springs for its parishioners. The project examined how the garden helped develop gardening and farming skills in the community and reduced health disparities through improved access to fruits and vegetables.
FAV5 is a school-based and web-based project using evidence-based strategies to encourage cafeteria staff, teachers, parents, and school administers to work together and support each other to promote healthy eating and physical activity in children. FAV5 is sponsored by the Kohl’s Foundation and the NC Children’s Hospital. Visit the website at kohlskidsclub.org where you can find resources, children can play an interactive game that gets them moving, and everyone can join a race across North Carolina by recording their daily steps on a map across the state!
Home Base is a school-based intervention to improve cafeteria staff’s capacity to prepare fresh, local produce for school meals in Durham County, Lenoir County, and Warren County, NC. We have partnered with Chartwells, the school food provider in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, to develop a take-home curriculum and train Child Nutrition Services staff about nutrition, communicating with kids, basic cooking techniques, and strategies for using fresh, local produce in meals. During this program, we have learned a lot from Child Nutrition Services staff about existing efforts to use local foods and to efforts to encourage kids to choose healthy foods during school meals. North Carolina Farm-to-School donated the local produce used during the Home Base trainings and for taste-testing events with students. Home Base is supported through a Farm-to-School implementation grant from the USDA.
In North Carolina, 26% of children live in poverty, 19% are obese, 25% live in a food insecure household, and less than one-third of elementary school children consume recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. As school meals are a key mechanism to increase children’s access to healthy food in underserved communities, the overall goal of NOURISH is to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy school breakfast.
NOURISH gives parents, teachers and cafeteria staff access to the latest evidence from research on how to help children develop healthy eating habits at an early age. This approach helps the important adults in children’s lives provide consistent messages at home and school so that children are more likely to eat the nutritious options being served. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention staff will be available to provide NOURISH training in new schools, and in collaboration with No Kid Hungry and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Child Nutrition Director.
Food Explorers, a research partnership between the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), Rockingham County Schools, and Chef Cyndie Story, is a social marketing campaign designed to promote healthy lunch menus and increased fruit and vegetable consumption in North Carolina schools. The campaign is deployed in tandem with upgrades to school cafeteria equipment, new fruit and vegetable recipes and child nutrition staff training. The program is funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and the Reidsville Area Foundation.