The Healthy West Seventh Initiative grew out of a community project done by eh 2008-2011 residents at United Family Medicine. The project focused on the West 7th neighborhood of St. Paul, the oldest residential neighborhood in Saint Paul. The United Family residents, in partnership with community members, conducted a needs assessment of the West Seventh Community through surveys, key informant interviews, and focus groups of people who live, work or otherwise have connections to the West Seventh community. Respondents identified a number of key areas of need in the community including access to basic needs and affordable, fresh nutritious foods. In 2011, researchers and community stakeholders, including a Mississippi Market representative, formed the Healthy West 7th council to begin with improving access to food, nutrition and fitness through a community gardening initiative. The group continues to meet regularly and carry out the priorities identified in the research.
Mississippi Market Co-op became involved with Healthy West 7th when United Family residents were presenting their findings from their research. The co-op sent a representative to learn from the findings and also catered the event. Afterward, the co-op joined the community stakeholder group to take part in planning the first steps and forming a council. In early 2012, Mississippi Market Co-op and Allina Health each provided $5,000 to fund Healthy West 7th’s first project: a community garden open to any neighborhood residents. Mississippi Market followed up shortly with an additional $830 donated by our members and shoppers. Mississippi Market housed a series of gardening classes taught by Master Gardeners for the community gardeners and the neighborhood in general. A Mississippi Market representative continues to attend and contribute to monthly council meetings, taking on projects such as flyer design and class coordination as needed.
Healthy West 7th seeks to improve the health and wellness of Saint Paul’s West End in measurable ways by building relationships throughout our community founded on the unique strengths of our neighborhood. Objectives: 1. We will adopt a broad definition of health focused on the 8 priorities identified as areas of unmet need by our neighborhood in the initial Healthy West 7th survey: 1.) Basic Needs 2.) Health Education 3.) Resource Coordination 4.) Nutrition 5.) Fitness 6.) Community-Building 7/8.) Volunteerism 7/8.) Activities for Youth 2. Education will be the foundation of our work; we will enable individuals and families to make and sustain optimal decisions about their health.
In its first year, the Healthy West 7th community garden welcomed 18 gardeners of all ages and experience levels. The community stakeholders council hired three interns who have contributed to the project, though garden coordination, website design, outreach efforts and trips to donate fresh garden produce to the local food shelves. In the Spring, Mississippi Market hosted a series of vegetable gardening classes with Master Gardeners teaching and over 40 participants learning about urban gardening. The garden was featured in the neighborhood’s annual garden tour and a city-wide community garden tour and prompted several articles in the community paper, the Community Reporter and in Mississippi Market’s member newsletter. In the Fall, the organizers hosted a lovely harvest dinner with over 50 people in attendance and a well-loved organic farmer as the keynote speaker. A local legislative representative even drafted a resolution acknowledging the achievements of this small group of people changing their neighborhood’s health. The stakeholders’ council continues to meet and plan the group’s next steps, including moving into fitness promotion and health education. Next steps also include follow up research to determine how neighborhood residents have been affected by this project’s efforts.
Community involvement is central to Mississippi Market’s identity as a cooperative. Partnering with Healthy West 7th and other community groups to bring a community garden to our West 7th store’s neighborhood creates synergy with our existing outreach and education programs and provides a model of community engagement that can go beyond gardening and comprehensively change our neighborhood’s health. – Gail Graham, General Manager of Mississippi Market Co-op