Chatham County Health Department Community Garden

In 2013 the Chatham County Health Department moved into a new facility located at 1395 Eisenhower Drive.  The new building was state of the art and awarded LEED Gold accreditation.  This highly prized and recognized award illustrates the commitment to sustainability and green initiatives that county leaders are working towards.  Nonetheless, within the Health Department, administration wanted to take these efforts further and translate them into something more personal and interactive.

DPH squashFor the past 18 months the Chatham County Health Department has been approaching client education with hands-on demonstrations.  Previously Women Infant Children (WIC) clients were educated on nutrition and healthy eating habits with the use of charts, diagrams and literature pamphlets.  However, the Health Department’s Administration saw an opportunity to capitalize on these interactions and provide their clients with a more personal, yet educational experience.  In early 2014, the Health Department’s Maintenance team constructed 5 raised planting beds onsite with the intention of growing all organic, pesticide-free produce. Subsequently, they began to provide their on-staff Nutritionist with beautiful, healthy produce which in turn was used in cooking demonstrations.  These demonstrations were interactive and provided client involvement with the onsite kitchen in the WIC area.  Furthermore, the buzz created by the new approach caught the attention of organizations such as the Georgia Medical Society, and for their efforts, the Maintenance team and Nutritionist were recognized as Hometown Heroes in November later in the year.  Visitors to the Health Department from all over the state were impressed with the beautiful new facility, and the gardens were creating a ripple effect throughout the state.  Other agencies within the state have begun looking into installations such as the one here in Chatham County to serve their areas.

DPH SunFlower

In early 2015, the Health Department’s Administration once again stepped up and decided to expand the program from the previous 125 square feet of planting space to an impressive 500 square feet.  They reached out to WellFED Savannah for information.  WellFED was impressed with the program and donated organic compost to the Health Department while creating a working relationship for future expansion of the program.  In addition, the Health Department also added a small greenhouse where seeds can be sowed earlier in the year to provide for a longer harvest season.  Based on previous recorded harvest data, this year the Chatham County Health Department expects to harvest 1,000 pounds of fresh, organically grown produce.  To further develop their initiative, the extra produce not used in cooking demonstrations is given to clients who participate in nutrition education classes.  Additional surplus is being handed out to clients of their other clinics with healthy recipes related to the current harvest.  Health Department staff are also afforded the chance to take some of the produce home by submitting their favorite healthy recipe to their Public Health Educator for a chance to be recognized in their interoffice Healthy Home Spotlight newsletter. Winning participants receive a bag of fresh produce, have their picture taken and their recipe is shared with everyone in the organization. Finally, the fresh produce is currently being donated to the 912Foodtruck in association with the Forsyth Farmers Market, and community organizations such as “Everybody Eats Fresh FREE Fridays”.

Whether the harvest is cucumber, eggplant, sunburst squash, Amish melons, fresh herbs or even sunflower seeds, the Chatham County Health Department has built a new program to assist their clients with providing healthy meals for their families.  To date, they have harvested 668 pounds of produce, and are gearing up for a second spring/summer planting.  While the volume of their organic vegetables, fruits and herbs can be weighed, the impact taking place throughout the community is far larger than was expected.  The overall bearing of the program has no boundaries and they hope to continue to build their initiative one client at a time.

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