Community College Bolsters Health Improvement Efforts Through Community Gardens, Youth Engagement

Beaufort County Community College (BCCC) is taking the lead as the community works to strengthen local partnerships to increase access to fresh food for underserved residents. The work is a part of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative, a long-term effort aimed at improving the quality of life and health in rural North Carolina counties.

BCCC is working with local farmers and church congregations to coordinate the growing and distribution of fresh food. These partnerships aim to teach youth how to cultivate crops and support them as they grow gardens in the community. BCCC will also use food grown in community gardens to teach cooking classes to the parents of young people engaged in the program.

“We are committed to improving health education opportunities for residents of Beaufort County and we think increasing access to healthy food and healthy food preparation instruction is the logical place to start,” said Julie Crippen, grant writer and coordinator of special projects at BCCC. “We are excited to partner with farmers and church congregations to engage our children and teach them how to cook healthier meals, cultivate crops, and support their efforts as they grow gardens at churches.”

The Trust is supporting BCCC’s efforts through a grant of $159,311. The three year grant will allow the college to grow its efforts to increase access to healthy food in Beaufort County.

“With the grant, we will be able to make a difference to those who desperately need it; it will change lives by teaching people how to eat better,” said Bill Booth, BCCC’s healthy eating community coordinator.  “It’s making a tremendous difference already. Partnering with the community college will give us more credibility for the program overall. I’m really excited for what we are doing now and what we will doing in the future.”

This past year, the college began organizing a work group on healthy food access and community gardens. Additionally, BCCC staff are currently participating in local health improvement coalitions and encouraging these groups to be more action oriented.

“Providing residents with access to healthy foods is a key step for health improvement,” said Trust Program Officer Adam Linker. “Beaufort County Community College’s plan to not only offer healthy options, but also teach the youth and the community about the benefits of taking advantage of local produce and gardens is exciting and shows the kind of collaboration that is at the heart of the Trust’s Healthy Places NC initiative.”

Beaufort County joined the Healthy Places NC initiative in May 2012. The Trust plans to invest $100 million in 10 to 12 rural counties over a 10-year period. To date, the Trust has invited seven counties—Beaufort, Burke, Edgecombe, Halifax, McDowell, Nash and Rockingham—to participate and will announce additional counties in the coming years. In each county, Healthy Places NC work and projects are driven by the community’s concerns, as well as by where the Trust thinks there’s an opportunity for sustainable, long-term change.