Decades ago having a car wasn’t the norm, so there was a lot more walking.
And fast food wasn’t as accessible either — people often ate home-cooked meals.
As local government bodies review proposals to build new fast-food restaurants, they seldom consider the health impacts of their decisions; also, sidewalks that would make it easy for people to get a bit of activity aren’t considered a requirement.
A new program in Schoharie County aims to reverse these trends seen as contributing to unhealthy people, and the state is pitching in $875,000.
The New York State Health Department’s division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention awarded grants to 22 different entities statewide in an effort to prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Including matching money and in-kind services, more than $1 million will be spent on a five-year effort to make it easier to be healthy in Schoharie County, with SUNY-Cobleskill’s Wellness Center at the center.
More and better gardens, parks and walkways, improved access to farm fresh foods and an emphasis on making exercise a part of people’s day are among aspects of the program to be directed by coordinator Deya Greer, who was hired by the college to pull it all together.
“Basically, what the grant seeks to do is to look at the resources that the community already has that may not currently be working together,” Greer said. “We’re creating a partnership … and it will bring together diverse community organizations to work on issues such as creating access to healthy foods.”
Agencies to be involved in the effort are numerous and include the county’s planning and health departments, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cobleskill Regional Hospital, the village of Cobleskill and the village’s recreation commission, the Cobleskill-Richmondville school district, Schoharie County Trail Association and SchoPeg Access Television.
Not unlike other New York counties, health statistics show a large number of people are at risk or dying from disease that could be avoided by healthier choices.
About 150 people in the county of 32,749 died from heart disease during the three-year period from 2006 through 2008, and state Health Department statistics estimate only a quarter of the population eats five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Another 106 people died from diabetes during that time, during which 13.2 percent of children aged 2 to 4, fed with the help of the Women, Infants and Children program, were considered obese.
Participants hope the initiative can ultimately change people’s habits by making it easier to be active and eat good food.
Money will be put towards the Cobleskill Creek Trail — an idea at this point that will provide a scenic, three-mile walking trail between the college and the Cobleskill-Richmondville schools. The trail may need a bridge over the Cobleskill Creek and grant money will be used to design it, Greer said.
The Cobleskill Recreation Commission’s parks will also get attention — roughly $30,000 will be spent to add lighting and video security cameras at Golding Park, also called Teen Town.
There have been many improvements at the park but the lack of adequate lighting has complicated efforts to get people out for activity, according to Linda Holmes, who chairs the Cobleskill village and town joint recreation commission.
A video surveillance system and more lighting will open up the park and enable the commission to plan more events, both for children and adults, Holmes said. “We’re very excited about it.”
As in other aspects of the Creating Healthy Places program, the labor and skill to install the lights and cameras will be donated by local contractors and considered “in-kind” services.
Adding lights should increase usage in terms of hours in the day, Holmes said, but the group is also planning to expand opportunities for all-season use.
This will entail creating trails near the Golding park that can be used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
People will be more likely to get out and play if they feel safe, Greer said.
“One of the things that the grant seeks to do is to make changes to the environment so that the environment supports people getting out and moving around more,” Greer said.
A few years back, the USDA started making card readers available to farmers so people who use food stamps could buy fresh foods at the markets.
But the effort wasn’t working too well, said Schoharie County agricultural marketing specialist Michele Strobeck. “It’s not wireless and a lot of our farmers markets, they have no access to electricity or a phone line. It makes no sense.”
The Creating Healthy Places grant program will pay for new EBT card readers, ones that are battery-operated with wireless connectivity that can be used pretty much anywhere.
Strobeck said the idea has two benefits — getting more healthy food to people and helping farmers find more customers.
“There’s so many people on the supplemental nutrition program because of the economy. And it’s a market that our farmers are not really well tapped into.”
Strobeck’s efforts will also help those with transportation problems or specific tastes to order their farm-fresh goods on the Internet and pick them up at a central location near a public transportation route.
“The grant really wants to target the people who really don’t have access. Not everybody has a car,” Greer said.
Through the website, people will be able to choose a food, such as blueberries, place an order online and then the farmers will ship the products out to a central location.
Doing so, it is hoped, will get more people eating more healthy foods while helping farmers’ bottom lines.
“Those same farmers will bring dropoffs and be EBT ready. It’s kind of creating an entirely new system,” Greer said.
Those central locations will be on bus routes, ensuring that all are able to avail themselves of the fresh foods.
Decades ago, all of Schoharie County was labeled as farmland, so most residents were involved in the hands-on work of raising food.
That’s not the case today, and Greer said the grant funding will help bring back that healthy activity.
SUNY-Cobleskill has a community garden open to all but some people, such as senior citizens, can’t always travel.
So the grant will pay for the development of two new gardens, one at the Parsonage Pines apartment complex in Schoharie and the other at the Spring Meadows apartments in Sharon Springs.
Greer said she stopped by the Schoharie site and spoke with two residents there eager to get their hands dirty.
“They want to be outside, they want to be gardening. Neither have cars,” Greer said.
The gardens will be built as raised beds, making it easier for the seniors to work the soil.
The program is being broken into several phases and as it progresses Greer said the goal is to spread the improvements throughout Schoharie County.
Other plans in the works as part of the program include:
u Installing crosswalk markings and identifying routes for walking in towns and villages.
u Offering training for canning and freezing fresh foods.
u Expanding access to recreational facilities at schools and at SUNY Cobleskill.
u Promoting the purchase of farm-fresh food with events and programs in restaurants.