Healthy Kingston for Kids: Update

By Arthur Zaczkiewicz

The Healthy Kingston for Kids Project, which aims to reverse childhood obesity in Kingston via environmental and policy change is humming along as the four committees – complete streets, after school food environment, safe routes to schools and parks, and school and community gardens – are busy assessing current policies as well as the overall environment.

For my part, I’ve been working with environmental educator Julie Noble and several volunteers on the HKK school and community gardens work plan. We’ve been meeting with municipal and school officials as well as residents, non-profits and businesses as a way to build support for school and community gardens in Kingston. The idea is to support policies that encourage people and kids to grow veggies, which has shown to reverse obesity.

In May, we launched the Kingston City Gardens Coalition, which held a visioning session to decide the projects volunteers are most interested in. Although slow going, there’s interest in two community gardens: South Pine and the YMCA. The coalition takes a decentralized and consensus-building approach as a way to create long-term sustainability, which is a primary goal of the HKK project. The idea is for each garden to have a steward(s) who rally volunteers and gardeners on a neighborhood level. They would meet regularly and focus their attention on their particular garden.

The garden stewards would then attend the coalition meetings to participate in skill shares, visioning sessions, policy brainstorming sessions, etc. Organizations such as the Kingston Land Trust would then act as resources and support for these garden groups as well as the coalition. Of course this is a process, and takes time to build. Stay tuned for more details as this work progresses.

Meanwhile, in June, I attended a conference with other grantees of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (which is funding the HKK project with seed money), and learned that Kingston, in many respects, is ahead of other communities in regard to gardens – particularly with the citywide coalition. Other communities applauded our work, and I’ve been in touch with several other communities in the U.S. to share some of the tactics we engage in here in Kingston.

This past spring, at the “Kids Run Wild” event at Forsyth Nature Center, I worked with other volunteers during a “Paint the Picture” session. Using a variety of art supplies such as markers, paints, brushes, and large pieces of cloth, over 200 participants shared their vision in words and pictures of what they imagined to be a healthy Kingston. The results were amazing. Children painted people recreating on bikes, growing veggie gardens, playing in parks and recycling. There were lots of flowers, suns, trees and happy faces. The leftover art materials were used again during the recent “Make a Difference Day” in Midtown.

Interested in volunteering or having some space to grow a vegetable garden? Email me at zaczkiewiczATyahoo.com.

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