Well Connected Communities
May 31, 2023
Some of the seniors who received vouchers for the Caldwell Farm to Fork Market have used produce in new ways, while others have introduced salads to their diets.
The food voucher program is entering its third year at the Caldwell farmers market. It was organized by the Caldwell Health Coalition, which was established through a nationwide Cooperative Extension initiative devoted to cultivating wellness in participating communities. Organized in partnership with National 4-H Council, the initiative, called Well Connected Communities, is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“We had a senior explain she felt like a queen — she felt like a gourmet cook — when she put together her salads, and she was even taking pictures of them,” said Lindsey McConnell-Soong, Well Connected Communities program manager based at the U of I Caldwell Research and Extension Center.
UI Extension educator Tasha Howard, Canyon County, expected the positive feedback from participating seniors regarding the program’s nutritional benefits. Much of the Caldwell area is considered a food desert based on poor access to stores offering nutritious foods, as well as the high percentage of low-income households.
The voucher program, however, has also delivered surprising social benefits. A favorite aspect of the program that participants have emphasized in surveys is that it forces them to leave home and experience a community event, where they walk outdoors, listen to music and socialize.
“A lot of them stayed for music and dancing. We know they built friendships, and they really enjoyed weekly conversations with vendors,” Howard said. “It showed us this program is doing a lot of different things.”
McConnell-Soong added, “The sense of community and belonging and the personal connections happening have seemed to be the greatest impacts on our individual seniors.”
Well Connected Communities has established community health coalitions involving UI Extension and several other area partners, who host regular meetings to identify local health needs and develop programs to address them. UI Extension wasn’t among the awardees when Well Connected Communities made its initial call for proposals in 2017 but joined anyway as a self-funded program, establishing health coalitions in Caldwell and Marsing by 2018. Having already laid the foundation for its program, U of I succeeded in securing funding during the second and third Well Connected Communities grant cycles.
The goal is for health coalitions to evolve into self-sustaining community organizations.
Caldwell’s Senior Produce Program is supported with $10,000 in donations from partners in the Caldwell Health Coalition, including the city of Caldwell and St. Luke’s Health System. Residents 60 and older receive $6 vouchers, which they can redeem at the farmers market for locally produced food.
The Caldwell Health Coalition also reviewed a walkability report developed for the city of Caldwell. The coalition recruited volunteers to observe challenges and potential dangers during student drop-off and pickup times and then reported observations to the city’s traffic commission, resulting in the expansion of a school speed zone. St. Luke’s donated funds for new crosswalk signs, and other members donated pedestrian safety bookmarks and reflectors to give students.
In Owyhee County, Southwest District Health, which had been operating its own Community Health Action Team, merged its program with the Marsing Health Coalition in 2021. The partners expanded to encompass Homedale and began operating as the Owyhee Health Coalition.
The Owyhee Health Coalition aims to host its third community health fair this summer to raise awareness about health-related resources available to community members and how to access them. During the 2022 health fair, the Idaho Food Bank committed food boxes to help participants in need, and a foot race was added as a related event.
The Owyhee Health Coalition is also pursuing grant funding to help the local school district build a track and field.
“The school district is really heavily involved in the coalition, and that’s a big desire for the community,” UI Extension educator Surine Greenway, Owyhee County, said of the track and field project. “There’s also a separate project with loneliness. We’re really going to focus on that loneliness issue across ages.”
In 2020, UI Extension established a health coalition in Preston, which developed and distributed a list of area recreational opportunities to help the public be physically active. Despite efforts from the Well Connected Communities team, the Franklin County Health Coalition struggled to gain traction in the community and was dissolved in February.
“What I see happening in the health coalitions is Extension’s reputation as a valuable health partner in the community is growing and expanding beyond its traditional roles,” McConnell-Soong said.
About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at uidaho.edu.