Baldwin County working on healthier community

mstucka@macon.comNovember 15, 2010 

Baldwin County officials are working to build a vibrant community where children can safely bike to school, then eat nutritious snacks they’ve grown themselves.

That’s part of the idea behind Live Baldwin Healthy, a collaborative effort to get children eating better food and exercising more. That, in turn, will prevent children from getting fat and give them a lifetime of health, said Jim Lidstone, director of the Center for Health and Social Issues at Georgia College & State University.

Lidstone said at least 30 percent of Baldwin County children are obese. One study took skin fold measurements in children aged 9 to 11.

“It found that 52 percent of the girls and 61 percent of the boys were classified as either moderately or very overweight,” he said.

Groups working with Live Healthy Baldwin are trying to build a pathway under three highways that have cut the city’s schools off from most of the neighborhoods. Long term, the community hopes to build an additional 14 miles of trail in town, as well as about 33 miles that could connect Milledgeville to Macon.

Volunteers also have created a community garden behind the New Beginning Worship Center. They had to revamp the area, which had been the overgrown playground of the former Southside Elementary School.

Joe Metzker, vice president of the Milledgeville Community Garden Association, said the garden is building up. More important are the partnerships, including ideas of creating community gardens at schools and some of the Milledgeville Housing Authority’s three sites.

“We’re working on the dirt, but then we need to make sure we have what’s going to make this keep going,” Metzker said.

Live Healthy Baldwin is working with an award-winning farmers market set up on busy Hancock Street in Milledgeville’s downtown. Lidstone said he’s working to set up a system for the farmers market to accept food stamps — and sponsorships that would allow the food stamps to go twice as far. In an era of $1 fast food “super value” menu items, fresh food struggles to compete, Lidstone said.

Lidstone’s figures show Baldwin County has three times as many fast-food restaurants as it does grocery stores. The county has a high unemployment rate and hundreds of families lack transportation, making it tough to get healthy food easily and inexpensively, he said.

Lidstone said part of the effort is in figuring out how to get healthier snacks to children. Pop-Tarts and Rice Krispies treats are easy to serve to children, but half-sandwiches on whole-wheat bread need more preparation. Even carrots, celery sticks and peanut butter need more preparation, and children aren’t used to eating like that.

Lidstone said children who grow to like the healthier snacks may eat better at home and later in life, setting the stage for even more healthy eating. Children who begin biking to school may exercise more often later in life.

Baldwin County is just one of 50 communities in the “Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities” program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That grant, at $360,000 over five years, is being matched with other money. A $100,000 Georgia Department of Natural Resources grant, for example, should allow construction of the first mile of the Fishing Creek Community Trail to begin in February.

This month, Lidstone will apply for $600,000 from two other grants to build 2.5 miles of trail, enough to connect the existing Oconee River Greenway to the city’s major school campuses and a park. Later expansions could tie the Fishing Creek Community Trail to an industrial area, the public golf course and a recreation complex.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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