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Pulaski creates new initiative to connect people to local food

PULASKI, Va. (WDBJ) Pulaski County is known as a food desert which means it’s difficult for some people to buy affordable, good-quality, fresh food. Town leaders see this as a health crisis they want to solve.

They’re hosting a two-day workshop called Local Foods, Local Places. This is an initiative by the town to help more people throughout the county have increased access to healthy food.

One way they’re doing so is through community gardens. Inside the garden by the Pulaski YMCA, the NRV health district’s population community health coordinator, Pamela Ray, loves to get her hands dirty.

“If you don’t go where your community is, you’re not going to have success,” she said.

The garden is getting greener by the minute. A sight that Pear Tree Hill farmer, Amy Tanner is excited to see.

“You just feel at peace. It’s very tranquil. It’s relaxing and comforting being here,” Tanner said.

Both Ray and Tanner want the garden to be a fun way to get people to eat healthy food, be active, and learn new skills.

“It’s an easy way to reach out to people, to engage them, and to get them a little bit interested in their own health and give them ownership of their health,” Ray said.

Because it’s their health that is affected by the area’s lack of access to local foods.

“In this area, we do have folks that have limited means and so we wanted to make a community garden, not just to provide health fresh foods that they can help produce but also to give them a chance to learn,” Ray said.

It’s the same goal Pulaski leaders have for their new initiative.

“Local Foods, Local Places Pulaski is a competitive technical assistance award given by the EPA,” Nichole Hair, the deputy town manager, said.

This initiative looks at ways food and people can be integrated in the downtown.

“Part of what we’re thinking about is actual physical connections, trails, sidewalks,” Hair said. “But then also how we educate our citizens regarding local foods and how we can access local food.”

Leaders want to hear from its people where they think the next grocery store should go, where sidewalks should be built, or bus routes added.

“I like to see this as a first step of what should be a long term effort,” Ray said. “If we can get people involved, increase their awareness, and give them the opportunity to tell us what they need, and have us listen to what they’re saying, then I think we’re going to have success.”

They’re already seeing success at the kids’ garden at the YMCA where the students are learning how to plant gardens of their own.

“These are all radishes,” 9-year-old Arianna Ramos said pointing to her favorite vegetable.

“They need water, they need oxygen they need sunlight,” her classmate, Alex said showing off how much he’s learned.

The YMCA’s executive director, Allison Hunter said getting the kids involved is an important part of changing a community.

“It’s amazing to me how they don’t know about growing anything and then you get them involved, they are all in it,” she said.

These different gardens ares just a couple of ways community leaders want to get people involved in the new initiative.

“My hope is to increase awareness of how much work goes into making food and how that work is really a labor of love for the people who do it,” Tanner said. “And it’s reflected in the product, the quality and the nutritious content of the produce that’s created.”

The Local Foods, Local Places community meeting is Monday, June 17 from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Pulaski Train Station. Then there’s an action planning session from 8:30 a.m-4 p.m on Tuesday.

The entire community is invited to both meetings to help brainstorm ways to improve Pulaski’s access to healthy food and living.

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