Local Foods, Local Places in Williamson
- Need: In Williamson, West Virginia, access to fresh produce is limited.
- Intervention: Williamson Health & Wellness Center, an FQHC, created a community garden, launched a weekly farmers market, connected local farmers to food entrepreneurs, and created a hub that launches ideas for healthy living.
- Results: Residents' access to healthy foods has made a difference in their health and lifestyles.
Mingo County, West Virginia has a history of limited access to healthy foods, high obesity rates, and diabetes prevalence. The county ranks 54 out of 55 counties in health outcomes. Because some of the county is considered a food desert, access to fresh produce can further inhibit healthy eating. When their coal mining industry plummeted, unemployment rates increased and land was vacated in Williamson, a rural town within Mingo County.
Williamson Health & Wellness Center (WHWC) is a Federally Qualified Health Center located in downtown Williamson that offers healthcare services along with nutrition education and physical fitness activities. They have taken a new approach to creating a "culture of health" by improving access to local, fresh foods while engaging residents in active lifestyles.
Their efforts are supported by Local Foods, Local Places (LFLP), a federal partnership supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Agriculture, and other agencies. Williamson is one of 93 urban and rural communities that has received planning assistance services through LFLP since 2015.
Through LFLP, EPA put on a 2-day workshop in Williamson for local, regional, and federal stakeholders in 2015. The workshop included brainstorming, action planning, and discussion around their goals. Following the workshop, Williamson held a regional breakout session to continue the dialogue on a larger scale. Out of the workshop, a regional partnership was formed with counties of Lincoln, McDowell, and Logan, and with organizations like Refresh Appalachia, Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture, and local food networks.
From the ideas that came out of the workshop, WHWC started construction on a vacant building in downtown Williamson to house the Health Innovations Hub (the HUB). This site now serves as the center for health and food entrepreneurs to circulate and act on ideas. WHWC and HUB partners have created access to fresh produce through community gardens, farmers markets, farm-to-table initiatives, and repurposing vacant coal land into viable farming and ranching operations.
This video outlines additional ways LFLP has affected Williamson:
LFLP closely correlates with Sustainable Williamson and Healthy in the Hills, both projects supported and facilitated by WHWC with the goal of improving health and holistic wellness for local residents. Partners of the Williamson LFLP initiative include local farms, businesses, and teachers. Others that have participated in planning and development include:
WHWC has helped Williamson increase access, utilization, and partnerships with local food sources in the following:
- The Williamson Farmers Market – Local farmers and artists sell their goods on a weekly basis from May to November. SNAP, senior vouchers, and veggie prescriptions are accepted. The market also provides recipe cards and hosts cooking demonstrations.
- My Mobile Market – A roaming farmers market that stops in 6 locations throughout Mingo County in order to improve access to fresh food for lower income areas.
- Ramella Park Community Garden of Eatin' – Located across from a low-income housing development. With 42 garden plots and 3 covered tunnels, the garden provides fresh produce for local residents and goods for the Williamson Farmers Market. Residents can rent a raised bed to grow their own vegetables. It also serves as a host for agricultural education and workshops.
- Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture – Provides jobs working in the community garden for veterans and an outlet for those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Community Supported Agriculture – A produce delivery program that provides fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers to area residents.
- Prescription Veggie Program – WHWC gives vouchers that resemble medical prescriptions to patients that can be redeemed at the farmers market for fresh produce.
- Alternative farming methods – WHWC supports demonstrations and methods to convert former mining land to viable farming and ranching land.
- Increased the number of high tunnel growing spaces for local producers.
LFLP led to planning of the HUB facility, which includes the following service:
- A certified community kitchen, utilized by food entrepreneurs for events and cooking classes
- Short-term housing above the HUB
- An indoor growing facility for workforce development and expanding agricultural markets
- A space for home gardeners that will feed into farmers markets and local food entrepreneurs
- Health and nutrition education for youth, elderly, and underserved populations
Through LFLP, Williamson has become a community that embraces the value of growing food locally and eating healthy. Because patients have better access to healthcare, physical activity, and fresh foods, WHWC has seen measurable health improvements. Specific results from their efforts are as follows:
- Patients who actively participated in diabetic education, healthy eating, and active living programs collectively reduced hemoglobin A1C numbers by 2.2%.
- Currently, the farmers market averages nearly 400 visitors per week and hosts up to 11 local vendors per week, depending on seasonal production.
To track long-term health changes, WHWC is in the process of developing a method of tracking health and wellness across sectors of the community. They are converting records taken on paper to a mobile application method that measure healthy eating, active living, volunteerism, and nutrition education programming.
For more information:
- Read more about Williamson's projects and other LFLP story in EPA Community Stories.
- Through these and other combined efforts within the community, Williamson received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize in 2014.
- Additional case studies, podcasts, and videos highlighting successes in other communities are available on the LFLP website.
- As the Williamson Local Foods, Local Places initiatives rolled out, there was soon more demand for local food than suppliers could produce. Expanding their reach to invite farmers from within a 70-mile radius of Williamson has helped meet the demand.
- The land available for farming efforts was not in a condition to produce a lot of food, since much of it rested on reclaimed mines. Additional resources were required to help the land gain nutrients needed. Free-range grazing and purchasing a rock crusher helped.
- Helping the community and local food networks embrace the new mindset of buying local, fresh food and supporting local agricultural efforts was important. Although slow going at first, their efforts eventually created popularity for farm-to-table events and increased local farm-to-restaurant consumption.
Additional ongoing challenges and lessons learned were shared by community leaders in a 2017 LFLP summit.
Efforts to duplicate the Williamson LFLP project have already begun to happen in other communities. Williamson has become a conduit of sharing information, resources, and best practices. Suggestions for other communities:
- Include representatives from different sectors in the community in order to diversify the market and spark consumer interest.
- Relocate healthcare facilities downtown to create easier accessibility to primary and preventive care.
- Support local entrepreneurs and their partnerships with local farmers to increase access to fresh food options for patrons.
Community and economic development
Farmers and farmworkers
Food security and nutrition
Networking and collaboration
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention
October 12, 2018
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2018. Local Foods, Local Places in Williamson [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/1037 [Accessed 19 January 2022]
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.