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Putting Healthy Food on the Table

  • Need: To reduce cancer rates 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 lost its only full-service grocery store in 2013, forcing residents to travel outside the county for fresh meat and produce. Those without transportation often have to rely on local gas stations and dollar stores for food, much of which is processed. (A new, full-service grocery store is scheduled to open in the fall of 2017, but the county will remain classified as a food desert.)

This unhealthy diet can lead to many types of cancers, and Vinton County’s cancer rates are higher than the state and national rates. Vinton County’s mortality rate in 2008-2012 for all sites and types of cancer was 196.1 per 100,000 people, compared to Ohio’s 186.6 and the United States’ 171.2. While many lifestyle and environmental factors play a role in cancer, the Ohio Department of Health found that residents of Appalachian counties tend to weigh more than those living in rural, suburban, or metropolitan counties.

In order to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, 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. Their partners at the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center suggested that lowering cancer incidence and mortality could be another potential outcome of the project.

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.

Putting Healthy Food on the Table (PHFT) 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.

Services offered

The project is in a state of transition in 2017, with plans to transition to a raised-bed community garden behind the local food pantry, St. Francis Outreach Center in McArthur, Ohio.

In addition, Putting Healthy Food on the Table provides classes on the following topics:

  • Gardening
  • Healthy eating
  • Food budgeting and meal planning
  • Canning and preserving

So far, 26 households in Vinton County have participated in the project. Of these 26, 22 established container gardens and 4 participated in community gardens.


Many barriers that the community garden faced were due to the original location:

  • Soil quality is poor.
  • The garden is located away from the storage shed that holds gardening supplies.
  • There is a distance between the water source and some garden plots.
  • The garden is outside village limits, making it less accessible to some residents.

For these reasons, the community garden is being moved to a different (and more centralized) location that will provide better access and will be more conducive to the successful raising of fresh produce.


Before selecting a site for a community garden, give serious consideration to 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 community garden has access to water, some site owners/operators are 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 Information
Kate Homonai, Family and Consumer Science Program Coordinator
OSU Extension-Vinton County
Food security and nutrition
States served
Date added
June 24, 2016
Date updated or reviewed
June 26, 2017

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.