Healing Seeds wraps up: hundreds of rural residents learn about healthy cooking and eating

Food and nutrition insecurity exists everywhere – central cities, suburban communities, and rural neighborhoods. Because population density is higher in cities and suburbs, there are often more opportunities for residents to connect to resources that provide healthy foods for low or no cost. But access for those in rural areas is usually more difficult – the distance to grocery stores and social service agencies is often hard to overcome.

That’s why the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation and Parkview Health, with support from the New Allen Alliance, developed Healing Seeds, an initiative specifically designed to support access to nutrition education and healthy foods for rural Allen County residents.

The work began in 2019 with a Stellar Communities grant from the Indiana Department of Health’s Office of Community & Rural Affairs. Cooking and nutrition classes were planned for rural residents, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic provided the opportunity to develop creative ways to share the information. The St. Joe Foundation and Parkview quickly went to work developing online videos providing information about nutrition and basic cooking techniques, as well as offering a variety of tasty and healthy recipes.

Four non-profit partners then customized the information and developed programming to meet the needs of their clients.

Phoenix Manor, an affordable housing center for seniors in Woodburn, offered the program to 14 of its residents who watched the videos and then prepared recipes using ingredients that were provided to them. The housing center’s management also started a food pantry, which helped low-income seniors work healthy foods into their diets despite having limited resources.

The Power House Youth Center in New Haven was able to offer Healing Seeds nutrition and cooking classes as part of their after-school programming, teaching 19 teens how to lead healthier lives. “It was awesome to see the students learning so much through these classes,” says Bonnie Roth, executive director. 

“They were very open to trying new foods and learning healthy ways to eat. They made one full meal while they were here so that they could try it, and then they also did all the prep work here to take the same dish home to finish preparing and share with their family.”

The New Haven/Adams Township Community Center offered summer and after-school classes for both seniors and youth. More than 125 participants met at the Center during 11 different classes. They watched the videos, tried their hand at creating some of the recipes, and then left each class with a bag of food and recipes for cooking several healthy dishes.

Cornerstone Youth Center in Monroeville was the final partner to take part in Healing Seeds. Through the program, staff and volunteers created healthy food kits; 77 households each received 20 kits over the course of several months. The kits included four healthy meals, fresh fruit, pantry staples, healthy recipes, and nutrition handouts. When surveyed, all of the participants said their health had improved because of the access to healthy food and nutrition information.