By David Robinson
This past summer has been exciting and a little overwhelming for Debra Bolding and Glenda Rice, volunteer co-managers of the Howard County Farmers Market in the southwest Arkansas city of Nashville.
Since finishing out a kitchen at the farmers market last year, the demand for cooking demonstrations there has meant weekly rather than monthly demonstrations as originally planned.
“It’s been a hit, almost too big of a hit,” Bolding, a master gardener, said with a laugh.
With the focus on preparing fresh, seasonal produce, audiences have been treated to the cooking expertise of local market growers, the county extension office, a local Mexican restaurant, a grocery store and market customers.
The cooking demos are part of Nashville’s Growing Healthy Communities initiative, which received $12,000 in 2009 from the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention (ArCOP), with funding from the Arkansas Blue & You Foundation.
The funds helped expand a demonstration garden adjacent to the farmers market and the integration of workshops with demonstrations and other activities at the market. In addition, the effort helped establish a beekeepers club and a junior beekeepers program, producing several new beekeepers – and many more honeybee hives – in the community.
The Nashville initiative, which has 14 total strategies, is one that stands out among the 18 Growing Healthy Communities grant recipients, said UAMS’ Todd Moore, an ArCOP member who manages the Community Engagement program for the UAMS Translational Research Institute.
Moore also noted that Springdale’s Growing Healthy Communities Initiative received a $5,000 match from the mayor’s office and used it to provide grants of $750 to $1,000 to support community gardens.
“I think what has happened in Springdale and Nashville really epitomizes what can be accomplished with just a small amount of seed money,” said Moore, who provides technical assistance to the communities. “Taken together, all of our Growing Healthy Communities grant recipients have leveraged nearly $1 million in additional support from the original $500,000 Blue & You grant.”
ArCOP was established in 2007 with dozens of public and private partners, including the UAMS colleges of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health, and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. Soon after, the coalition integrated the similar goals and activities of its partners and established a comprehensive obesity strategy.
The coalition has six teams: Access to Healthy Foods; Built Environment; Early Childhood and Schools; Healthcare; Worksite Wellness; and Social Marketing. Growing Healthy Communities is one of two major ArCOP programs; the other is Be Our Voice (a project of the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality).
“The Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention is a jewel for Arkansas,” said Allyson Cook, a coalition member who directs the Division of Continuing Medical Education in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the UAMS College of Medicine. “Its collaborative structure allows it to capitalize on all the available resources, avoid duplicating effort and energize Arkansas communities to address this issue.”
Following through on the brainchild of another ArCOP member, Meenakshi Budhraja, M.D., Cook recently coordinated the first statewide conference to teach primary care physicians about nutrition, including a kitchen session focused on preparing healthy, flavorful meals led by WinRock’s certified Executive Chef, Robert Hall.
The two-day conference, Healthy Food, Healthy Living Arkansas, held in August at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain, included a presentation from Rick Deroque, a former contestant on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” and Jaymo Mayo, who directs Conway-based Nabholz Construction’s wellness program. Nabholz was featured in a segment of HBO’s “Weight of the Nation” documentary, which was replayed during the conference.
Faculty from UAMS also presented at the conference, including Jeanne Wei, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of the UAMS Reynolds Institute on Aging and chair of the Reynolds Department of Geriatrics in the College of Medicine; David Nelson, M.D., a UAMS family medicine physician; and Jeremy Thomas, Pharm.D., an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.
“Primary care doctors are on the front lines trying to help their patients with this complex, often frustrating chronic disease,” Cook said. “By focusing on nutrition, easy cooking methods and partnering with patients, we are giving doctors additional tools to help them effectively treat their patients. That’s a crucial part of this obesity fight.”
Back in Nashville, Bolding’s group has begun to reach more people in the region through a regular “Did You Know?” radio spot, which provides healthy eating tidbits and promotes activities of the initiative. The 30-second to one-minute spots, along with the group’s other activities, seem to have struck a chord with the community, Bolding said.
“If we can get more people to at least think more about what they eat and what their children eat, then that’s a good start.”