Physical inactivity and poor dietary choices are both major risk factors for obesity among families. By providing an environment where families can exercise and have healthy food readily available, communities go a long way toward building a foundation for a lifetime of healthy habits. There is strong evidence showing that significant community development occurs when local community citizenry are committed to investing themselves and their time and resources in the effort. In the book Building Communities from the Inside Out, Kretzmann and McKnight discuss the importance of combining and mobilizing the existing strengths of communities resulting in more self-reliant communities. Valuable assistance can be provided to communities that are engaged in developing the assets of the individuals in the community, and, at the request of a citizen who understood this model of community engagement, the Southeast Raleigh faith-based community requested the assistance from Wake County Cooperative Extension to create the Southeast Raleigh Community Garden through Project FACT (Faith-Based Groups Addressing Health Issues Through Community Outreach Together in the Community).
The faith-based organization was interested in strengthening the health and well-being of the families and youth within the community through a community garden. Community leaders—along with staff at Wake County Cooperative Extension—developed and submitted a proposal for the Cooperative Extension Innovative Grant Program in 2005. Other community partners included: church leaders, residents and volunteers, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation Services, North Carolina Coalition of Farm and Rural Families, and the City of Raleigh. Building on the socio-ecological approach, the Southeast Raleigh Community Garden Initiative provided the framework for the individual, the family, and the community to influence positive lifestyle habits by engaging in increased levels of physical activity, learning about gardening and healthy eating. The project goals were to improve eating habits in children aged 4-13 and their families, increase physical activity, and build a sense of community.
The community gardening was implemented successfully within a faith-based community. As a result, 126 children worked in the garden averaging about 4.5 hours/child and 150 adults worked in the garden averaging about 12 hours/adult. The produce production from the garden was more than 8,000 servings of fruits and vegetables. Children were introduced to a variety of fruits and vegetables and were encouraged to eat at least one full serving of some type of fresh produce during educational sessions. The involvement of youth and families in the community gardening initiative increased the children’s awareness of the variety of fruits and vegetables available and their likelihood of incorporating them into their routine diet. The program was well received by participants who expressed satisfaction with the program and their intention to increase fruit and vegetable intake and increase physical activity through gardening.
The community garden project put knowledge to work by expanding resources in low-income families and communities. It increased local food production and improved the dietary intake of youth and families. In addition, the community garden was a great way to get both youth and adults involved in beautifying the neighborhood community while working with nature. This project empowered individuals to develop a stronger community, beautify local areas, produce fresh and nutritious foods, while, providing valuable recreational, spiritual and therapeutic opportunities and resources.
This project suggests that a faith-based community garden initiative may be an appropriate strategy for increasing physical activity and fresh product consumption among youth and their families. Community gardening projects represent a viable and enjoyable approach to improve youth and family health.
Visit Project FACT (Faith-Based Groups Addressing Health Issues Through Community Outreach Together in the Community) and the garden