Community gardens start to sprout this spring

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Known as one of the most obese areas in the nation, the Tri-Cities formed a Health Alliance to combat that statistic. Now, seven months later, officials say they have gotten the ball rolling by the use of community gardens.

Bill Dixon became a full-time volunteer three years ago. Promoting fresh food is his passion.

"Grown food essentially my whole life for my family and thought. 'That's really something that I can share with others," said Dixon.

Thanks to a new grant, the Tri-City Health Alliance has been able to allow volunteers like Bill to put in six new community gardens around the Tri-Cities. Two are currently underway: one at the teen shelter "My Friends Place" and another at the Juvenile Justice Center.

"Really important to help those kids learn more about healthy eating," said Dixon.

That is the goal: a lifetime of health. Staff say community gardens are just one of the ways to get our community fit. It also includes the "Good Health is Good Business" program, which focuses on employee wellness. The Affordable Care Act has also allowed more Tri-Cities folks to get health care coverage.

"It's wonderful to see that they can start accessing health care, they can start practicing preventative care, they can empower themselves to be healthier," said Carol Moser, executive director of the Tri-City Health Alliance.

In the next couple months, the Alliance will host opportunities for medical professionals to collaborate.

"So that the care can be coordinated; so that we don't do unnecessary procedures," said Moser.

And, for volunteers like Bill, good health starts with good food.

"Grow your own fresh produce, learn some gardening skills, get some exercise and, hopefully, be healthier as a result. And, to me, that's kind of what I'd like to give back to the community," said Dixon.

Officials tell me that the food that the Juvenile Justice Center grows will be used in their cafeteria and any extra food will be donated to local food banks.