Healthy Food

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Access to healthy foods in Cowlitz County has its good and bad points. We find through the 2017 County Health Ranking that 16% of residents had food insecurity which means they lack access to food and 10% lack access to healthy foods. Our food insecurity ranking is higher than the Washington state average. This is also verified by FISH Food Banks that in 2016 served 1634 households and 37% of those receiving food were children under 18 years of age. Nearly 30% of all adults receive SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) and 53% of our school-age children receive free or reduced lunches which is than the comparable state average of 48%.


While we have a significant number of people facing food crises, we are also fortunate to have programs like SNAP, FISH, farmers market, and school lunches. The school lunch program is critical to three schools that have more than 90% of their children receiving free or reduced meals


Countywide there is a strong commitment to donating food to alleviate hunger. Lower Columbia CAP has the Help Warehouse and distributes donated food and commodities. There is also the one monthly distribution by Food Lifeline in the Highlands neighborhood and the lineup begins an hour before the truck arrives.


Federal and state nutrition rules have changed reducing the amount of sodium and sugar used in school meals and sale of on-campus soda pop is limited with an emphasis on water and juices instead. The school garden initiative will soon begin their 15th year and are increasing access to healthy foods for school-age children. Along with the many food drives additional access to food is provided by faith-based organizations and volunteer groups who have stepped forward to provide meals. The Stone Soup and Belly Brigade are two examples of food and outreach provided to low income and homeless families by volunteers.


Even with the availability of healthy foods, consumption of good nutrition remains a challenge with 38% of adults reported being obese and 18% of 10th graders identifying as obese according to the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey. Both of these figures run higher than the state average. Children who are overweight or obese according to the Healthy Youth Survey do more poorly in school than children with a healthy weight.


Deaths due to diabetes in Cowlitz County is significantly higher than the state average. As the community seeks answers to making sure people do not go hungry there also has to be the effort to improve the quality of food they receive and promote active lifestyles.

Call to Action - Personal: 
  • Plant an extra row and donte to local food banks and feeding programs
  • Support local food drives
  • Buy locally grown and produced foods
  • Reduce consumption of sugary foods with little nutritional value
  • Encourage and support farm to institution programs
  • Learn about healthy weight and the health value for individuals
Call to Action - Community: 
  • Support gardens at every school
  • Preference given by Institutions to buying locally grown and produced foods
  • Plant urban orchards
  • Provide incentives for low-income households to use Farmers Markets
Call to Action - Policy Makers: 
  • Plan transportation systems that provide access to gardens, Framers Markets, and food distribution sites
  • Fund small farm entrepreneurs
  • Limit growth of fast food businesses
  • Require nutrition decision prompts in restaurants and institutions
  • Write development standards that promote access to health foods

Success Stories

Lower Columbia School Gardens
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Donating to Lower Columbia School Gardens became a bit easier once it became a nonprofit organization, meaning financial contributions are tax deductible. LCSG ‘s team of staff and volunteers helped create and maintain thirteen school gardens, totaling over 100,000 sq. ft. in 2014, as well as smaller projects at other schools. By the numbers, 3100 students were engaged and 310 community, parent and AmeriCorps volunteers provided 12,500 hours of service.  In addition to teaching kids how to garden, the group has also brought hands-on classes that teach students about nutrition, healthy eating, knife skills, table setting and other life skills. LCSG even sells some of its produce to local restaurants for use in their food preparations.

Community Supported Agriculture
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Employees at both Cowlitz County and St. John’s Medical Center have taken advantage of Willow Grove Gardens’ Community Supported Agriculture program. Workplace wellness programs at each place have made it possible for boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to be purchased and delivered to employees at work. Through the Cowlitz Fresh program, “shares” or variety boxes of fresh, organic produce are purchased and shared among the staff of the various county departments. About 40 employees also purchase their own share or half-share which they are able to take home. Similarly, 90 employees at St. John’s Medical Center have the fresh produce delivered to them throughout the 20-week growing season, having the price of the program deducted directly from their paychecks. Willow Grove Gardens offers the program to any community members. They can purchase an entire season’s worth of fresh produce, and then pick up the food either at the farm or at the Cowlitz County Farmer’s Market. The bags of fruit and vegetables vary by season and can be personalized to individual tastes.

St. John’s Medical Center
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A larger selection of appealing, healthy food options have been added to the menu of ParkLake Café at St. John’s Medical Center, making it easier for visitors and staff to make healthy decisions. Fried foods, such as burgers or chicken, have been replaced with baked or grilled options and more freshly prepared foods are available. Whole grains, fresh fruit cups, made to order salads, both fresh and steamed veggies, vegan and low-fat options are now more plentiful. Healthier options can also be found in the vending machines.