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.
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.
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
Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture, and local food
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
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
WHWC has helped Williamson increase access, utilization,
and partnerships with local food sources in the
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
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.
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.
Additional case studies, podcasts, and videos
highlighting successes in other communities are available
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.
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
Relocate healthcare facilities downtown to create
easier accessibility to primary and preventive
Support local entrepreneurs and
their partnerships with local farmers to increase access
to fresh food options for patrons.
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.