Community Wellness Projects
Our Community Wellness Projects respond to the unmet needs of our community. NCO identifies issues through the development of a community action plan, then looks at ways to successfully implement change. Much of what we do involves program development, partnerships, and collaboration, and many of our projects revolve around creating access to food.
Who We Serve: We assist low-income families and the community at large.
How We Operate: For years, NCO has been developing a wide array of grassroots programming to assist low-income families, helping them meet their basic needs in healthy sustainable ways by integrating economic development, leveraging scarce resources, and nurturing self sufficiency.
How Many People We Serve: The Community Wellness Projects serve approximately 1,800 people a year.
What We’ve Accomplished:
Some positive outcomes of our efforts are described below:
- More local farmers and family gardeners are producing more food. NCO supports school and community gardens, offers training workshops, and advocates for policies that make it easier for growers to sell their produce and for residents to purchase produce from friends and neighbors.
- More people are eating more fresh local produce. NCO works to raise community awareness of the health and economic benefits of “buying local” by promoting farmers markets, hosting cooking and nutrition classes, coordinating with schools to get more local produce into student meals, offering farmers market vouchers for volunteer time in community gardens, stocking low-cost grains and legumes through a bulk grain storage and distribution project (spun this project off to the Willits Grange), and increasing food stamp purchase options at farmers markets. The food pantry in Lake County has an emphasis on healthy food and assists clients with information on nutrition and recipes.
- We’ve developed more and stronger partnerships. NCO brings institutional players together with nonprofits, businesses, and community groups to strategize ways to do things better, such as the SOUP Project in which NCO and its partner Ford Street Project will build on existing resources to increase community food self-reliance and address the food needs of high-risk, low income people. New linkages have been forged between farmers and restaurants and schools and community groups such as granges.
- NCO has leveraged millions of dollars in grant funding. Since 1968 when NCO received its first grant for its Head Start program, the organization has successfully competed for and implemented numerous federal grants from a wide range of federal agencies, including the federal Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, USDA, California Endowment, Redbud Health Care District, and more.
- NCO encourages and facilitates collaboration. We participate in the Continuum of Care in Lake County, developing services for the homeless population. Most fiscal sponsorships are considered part of Community Wellness Projects, such as THRIVE Lake County Timebank, Healthy Mendocino, Ukiah Trails Group, and the School of Adaptive Agriculture. As part of collaboration and as a way to develop programs, NCO staff participate in many boards such as Economic Development & Finance Corporation (EDFC), WIB, Kids Club, Health & Human Services Agency (HHSA) Advisory Board, North Coast Regional Food Network, Lake County Hunger Task Force, Healthy Start, Food Round Table, United Way Collective Impact Group, and the Health Leadership Network.
Why Is NCO Involved in the Local Food Movement?
The history of NCOs involvement in the local food movement started in the year 2005, with a Community Needs Assessment Survey. Community members reported concerns about health, obesity and diabetes; health care costs; access to healthy foods; economic concerns and lack of jobs; food security; lack of cooking skills; and disaster preparedness. These are all big issues, and we wondered, “What could we do that would have an impact?” People were struggling to make ends meet, often the cheapest foods are the unhealthiest, and we wanted to reduce the costs of health care.
As our committee talked, we began to develop strategies. Could we reduce health care costs through prevention? Some poor health is lifestyle-related, and by encouraging people to stay as healthy as possible, could we prevent some illness? We decided to promote programs that create access to affordable, healthy food. Our farmers produce amazing quality vegetables locally; but they are small farmers, and without the benefit of any farm subsidies they need to charge the true cost of production. Many families simply can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables, and some families no longer know how to cook from scratch with core ingredients.
We knew community gardens could provide access to healthy food. At the same time, they provide opportunities for exercise and bring people together in ways that strengthen community (both healthy endeavors). By supporting small farmers and helping to “grow” more farmers, we could also have an impact on job creation.
Today, along with our partners, North Coast Opportunities brings community resources together to encourage health and hope. We’ve created a structure that develops both individual- and community-level food self-reliance while addressing the needs of high-risk, low-income people through education about nutrition, cooking skills, income-patching with value-added foods, and micro-enterprise opportunities.