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My Neighbor's Kitchen Table
Alameda County Library, CA
Innovation SummaryOver 650 people crowded seven branches of Alameda County Library to participate in “My Neighbor’s Kitchen Table” community conversations -- practical tips on eating healthier foods. Urban farmers, nutritionists, authors, actors, cooks and doctors led 15 workshops of diverse audiences of hundreds of new folks of all ages and backgrounds.
Over one-third of children and over 25% of adults in Alameda County are included in what is recognized as a national epidemic of obesity with its resulting increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and a variety of other disorders. Alameda County Library decided to take a proactive and collaborative approach to working with our cities, school districts and community partners to address the health concerns and disparities in our county. Our Aha! Moment arrived while reviewing our library staff’s long history of involvement with numerous organizations and, in particular, low-income immigrants, older adults and youth. We recognized the perfect opportunity to reach out and begin uniting folks by serving up community conversations on healthier food choices. Issues of access to affordable and healthy produce, nutrition and shopping tips could be connected by trying to pull together many people we already were in contact with: Dig Deep Farms, a Sheriff’s Department violence-prevention project that employs at-risk, low-income youth as urban farmers; our County Health Department’s Nutrition Services division; Kaiser Permanente’s community and local government office; activists in the growing Food Justice and Community Supported Agriculture movement; authors; chefs and library staff! My Neighbor’s Kitchen Table intentionally framed these Healthy Eating workshops as cultural and community topics, connecting folks from different generations and backgrounds with information and practical advice and tools to enrich their lives.
Before reaching out to the public we felt it important to first educate library staff as they and their families, of course, are also affected by this health crisis. We requested that Alameda County Nutritional Services provide nutrition education trainings for staff at all levels at our branches. This effort also ensured that staff felt involved and informed of our upcoming efforts. Another important component was our conscious effort to address the special nutritional needs of older adults. We enlisted Public Health staff to provide workshops for seniors and caregivers on healthy eating plans and purchasing healthy food on a limited budget. One of our most well-received workshops was the pairing of a Kaiser Permanente physician dedicated to creating farmers’ markets at hospitals nationwide with the director of a non-profit organization involved in neighborhood development through community-supported agriculture. These programs gave attendees a dramatic understanding of the benefits of locally grown and pesticide-free produce and, for many, their first taste of organic produce. To reach beyond our existing library patrons and networks and target new audiences, we publicized the programs through local Patch articles, health care facilities, plant nurseries, health food stores, and e-blasts via our partners’ community contacts. For example, Dig Deep Farms put our flyers in the hundreds of “grub boxes” they deliver to low-income areas. These collaborations were mutually beneficial as they provided us with expert content for our programs while allowing our partners to reach out to and connect with new and diverse audiences. It also enabled us to educate our partners about the library, as many had the initial response that, “Oh, we thought the library just provided children’s programs!”
The most encouraging outcome of this diverse series of programs, as reported by staff and partners throughout the series, was the response from the attendees. They appreciated the ability to speak directly to people involved in nutrition, urban gardening, and healthy cooking. Also, dozens of feedback forms indicated a strong desire for us to continue these types of events! And, as we had hoped, our partners valued the benefits of working with the library and want these collaborations to be ongoing. For example, as a result the project, Dig Deep Farms is expanding its outreach by installing a produce stand at our main library and is planning on using two of our branch libraries in low-income neighborhoods as “drop box” locations for their produce pickup. As another example, Alameda County Nutrition Services is promoting their Soda Free Summer campaign by placing displays at all our branches, and we are incorporating the campaign into our Summer Reading Game for children and adults. Planning is already under way with Kaiser staff to co-sponsor a series of screenings and panel discussions of the all-important “Weight of the Nation” documentary series on obesity. We are also working with Kaiser to provide healthy snacks for the students at our after-school homework centers. An important lesson we gained is that library staff, at all positions, are also part of the communities we serve, and involving them is beneficial on many levels. It is now our intention to integrate healthy eating into all appropriate library programs.