Sometimes knowing you have the power to improve your situation through hard work and determination can give you the courage to get you through financial hardship. There’s a program that’s empowering women to find that inner strength while learning about nutrition and gardening in the process.
Since 2001, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) has administered the WISEWOMAN (Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation) program to empower women living in low-income situations to make healthy lifestyle choices. In 2008, Michigan State University Extension in Ogemaw County piloted the WISEWOMAN Entrepreneurial Gardening Project, which was coordinated by Helen DeFlorio, MSUE Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) program instructor. The project added a gardening component to the WISEWOMAN program. It was such a success that the MDCH contacted Diane Rellinger, Extension educator, to pursue options for expansion. In 2010, five other counties joined Ogemaw County in the program – Antrim, Charlevoix, Crawford, Missaukee and Otsego – and 24 women participated. Diane provides overall program and budgetary coordination for the six counties.
The MDCH received a $52,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and partnering with MSUE, it used the grant to expand the project. The grant allowed the purchase of gardening supplies, plants and fencing. It provided for educational resources, farmers market registration fees, signage, gardening workshops, travel dollars for the participants to get to classes and the farmers markets, and vendor supplies, such as tents, tables and promotional items. MSUE SNAP-Ed, MSUE Master Gardeners, the MDCH, the Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency, District Health Department #2 and District Health Department #10 work together to make this project possible.
Says Diane Rellinger, “This project was a great example of transformational education. It provided a network of support that created enthusiasm and positive behavior change. We saw women bond together and get excited about their health, their new gardening knowledge and the opportunity to increase their incomes through selling their own produce at local farm markets.”
Patti McGee developed a garden to sell produce at next year’s grand opening of her new McGee Family Farm Market. Patti’s goal is to live off the income generated from the market.
Both women learned a great deal about gardening and nutrition.
MSUE Master Gardeners instructed the women in gardening procedures and encouraged them to keep a gardening journal. Teresa learned to use lasagna organic composting. The name comes from the layering method used in the process. Both Teresa and Patti helped build their own hoop houses to extend the gardening season. Jack Middleton, retired MSUE Otsego County Extension director, guided the hoop house building and also installed drip irrigation.
The WISEWOMAN program emphasizes making healthier food choices, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and being more physically active. The SNAP-Ed nutrition education series provided eight lessons based on dietary guidelines and tailored the lessons to this age group (ages 40 to 64). The gardening efforts provided increased opportunities to be physically active. Women reported losing weight and feeling better due to their dietary changes and increased activity.
According to Rebecca Fleis, MSUE Otsego County program associate, “The amazing thing about the project is the immense blessing a little seed funding can have in the lives of women. Often participants were in very difficult times in their lives financially; the opportunity to be part of the WISEWOMAN Entrepreneurial Gardening Project brought encouragement and hope for their future.”
Master Gardener coordinators, Cydney Steeb in Charlevoix County, Lora Freer in Ogemaw County, and Ed Doss in Otsego and Crawford counties, provided gardening education and ongoing support, and Master Gardener volunteers also lent their expertise to designing and growing healthy gardens. SNAP-Ed staff members Lori Eccles, program associate; Megan Rapelje, program instructor; Susan Warren, program associate; Rebecca Fleis and Helen DeFlorio provided nutrition education classes to encourage healthier food choices and provide instruction in using and preserving the garden vegetables grown by the WISEWOMAN participants. Steve Fouch, Extension educator, provided training on how to take produce from the garden to the farm market.
Key partners at the MDCH were Robin Roberts, WISEWOMAN program manager, and Viki Lorraine, WISEWOMAN program intervention specialist, along with the lifestyle counselors at the local health departments who identified program participants.
These are some powerful testimonials. They will be even more powerful if we’re gathering evaluation data that can help us to quantify the effect this program is having on the health and financial well being of participants.
To learn more, go to http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132–240962–,00.html.