More than just a tomato: teaching, feeding & strengthening a community

Fairview employees worked with Assumption Church
members in Richfield to build and plant more than 30
edible gardens.
Oct. 8, 2013
Fairview is helping grow vegetables—and community.

Children have harvested a rainbow of fresh produce from their new community gardens at Assumption Church in Richfield, Minn.

More than 30 raised garden beds were built and planted this past spring by Fairview employees, Assumption Church members and members of the surrounding community.

It's part of a year-long community health initiative which has $100,000 in funding from the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota through its Healthy Healthcare pilot program.

The funding enables Fairview to partner with the congregation and, together, improve the health of the community.

Identifying community needs
In 2012, Fairview completed Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) for each of the communities our hospitals serve, and developed 2013-2015 action plans based on what we learned.

As part of that work, Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina assessed the needs of different populations, including communities such as Assumption Church, and developed its healthy lifestyles action plan.

The church has a membership of about 3,300, the majority of whom are Latino. Many within this community are uninsured, underinsured, pre-diabetic or diabetic and lack general knowledge of healthy cooking and the impact of diet on health.

In focus groups, they also shared with our community health staff that when they seek health care, they often feel misunderstood and are concerned about obesity and associated health problems.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity to help us meet the needs of our community,” says Alissa LeRoux Smith, manager of Community Health and Volunteer Services at Fairview Southdale Hospital.

“This is a huge undertaking with the goal of mutual learning,” she adds. “We want to provide education and resources as we increase our understanding of the ways we can effectively partner with and serve this community.”
Two Fairview Southdale Hospital employees, Cathy Utne,
left, and Alissa LeRoux Smith, partnered with community
stakeholders to plan and develop the garden plots
and nutrition classes.

Fairview’s mission in action
“We have highly experienced and skilled people who have many gifts to share in terms of health and nutrition education,” says Bradley Beard, Fairview Southdale Hospital president. “Fairview’s mission is to improve the health of the communities we serve, and this work is clearly aimed at doing that.”

A portion of the funding has been used to hire a bilingual community health worker, Francisco Ramirez, to act as a liaison between Fairview and the church.

La Huerta Saludable de Asunción—or the “Healthy Edible Garden of Assumption”—is one of the first major visible results of our shared work.

The garden plots have brought together a mix of ages, culture and languages, says Ruth Evangelista, the church’s social services coordinator, who serves as the church’s lead contact for the initiative.

Church and community members are responsible for weeding, watering and harvesting the produce.

“Everyone is on teams, so there may be some people who are more experienced, and they can be welcoming to those who have not gardened,” says Evangelista. “Others, like the kids, may speak English better, so they create a link between our Spanish- and English-speaking congregations.”

The community gardens, then, become about more than just sweet peppers and spicy radishes. They serve as a source of exercise, a reason to socialize, an opportunity build and grow community, a place to access fresh food and the catalyst for learning about health and nutrition.

Here are just a few of the people from Fairview and from
the community who helped build the raised bed gardens.

Health education classes are part of the mix
In addition to the community gardens, Fairview and Assumption Church have started offering health education classes to kids and elders and are looking at further education on topics like prenatal nutritional education.

“We have a children’s program once a week where we are teaching the children about healthy snacks, like having an apple with almond butter instead of candy or ice cream,” says Evangelista.

“We have very high obesity rates in our children and adults, and we are trying to get these kids to learn what a better snack is— something that is simple and healthy.”

Assumption is also working with Fairview to host a weekly education class for elders about pertinent health topics like high blood pressure, medication management and diabetes care.

“People from other churches call me to see if their kids or elders can come to our classes,” says Evangelista. “Yes, they can.” What’s more, she adds, “The gardens do not belong to us. This all belongs to the community.”

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