Grow Your Health
- Need: To reduce rates of chronic disease in Appalachian Ohio by increasing fruit and vegetable intake.
- Intervention: Ohio State University Extension-Vinton County established a community garden, container gardens, and classes to provide residents with fresh produce and healthy cooking/canning techniques.
- Results: The number of gardeners has increased in Vinton County, providing residents with healthier food.
Vinton County in Appalachian Ohio is a food desert. The county of about 13,000 people has only one full-service grocery store. From 2013 to 2017, the county was without any grocery store, so residents had to travel outside the county for fresh meat and produce. An unhealthy diet can contribute to many types of cancers. Vinton County's cancer incidence rate from 2012 to 2016 was 555.5 per 100,000 people, compared to the state rate of 461.9 per 100,000.
In order to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, in 2014 Ohio State University Extension-Vinton County created a project called Putting Healthy Food on the Table, which helped residents grow their own fruits and vegetables through a community garden or container gardens. Partners at the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center suggested that lowering cancer incidence and mortality could be another potential outcome of the project. In 2019, the project's name was changed to Grow Your Health, and the focus on disease prevention was expanded to also include hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.
In addition, OSU Extension-Vinton County partnered with the Appalachia Community Cancer Network and local organizations such as 4-H and the Vinton County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
Grow Your Health was initially funded by an OSU Community Access to Resources and Educational Services (OSU CARES) grant, which requires an Extension unit to partner with a college within Ohio State University.
The program provides a community garden and container gardens. In 2017, four raised garden beds were constructed behind the local food pantry, St. Francis Outreach Center in McArthur, Ohio. These beds replaced the original community garden.
In addition, Grow Your Health provides classes on the following topics:
- Healthy eating
- Food budgeting and meal planning
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grow Your Health classes were offered virtually in 2020. Participants were able to attend classes live or view the recorded sessions later at their convenience.
So far, 29 households in Vinton County have participated in the project's original gardens. Of these, 25 established container gardens and 4 participated in the community garden. Two households are currently participating in the new garden beds. St. Francis clients are invited to help tend the other two garden beds and receive produce as thanks for their efforts.
Many barriers that the community garden faced were due to the original location:
- Soil quality was poor.
- The garden was located away from the storage shed that held gardening supplies.
- There was a distance between the water source and some garden plots.
For these reasons, the community garden moved to a different and more centralized location behind the food pantry. This location provides better access and is more conducive to the successful raising of fresh produce.
Before selecting a site for a community garden, consider issues of access and soil quality. After the second year of the project, the original location was abandoned in favor of a new location. The project was suspended for the 2016 growing season due to a lack of available space.
Consider water access when choosing a garden site. While Vinton County's original community garden had access to water, some site owners/operators were reluctant to allow access to the gardeners, due to potentially higher utility bills.
Be prepared for unpredictable or severe weather: In the project's second year, hundreds of plants were donated by a local nursery only to be washed away by a rainstorm or eaten by wildlife.
Contact InformationKate Homonai, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences
OSU Extension-Vinton County
Food security and nutrition
June 24, 2016
Date updated or reviewed
June 5, 2020
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.