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Farming and Community Health

How does the protection of farmland correlate to the health of a community? Kane County, Illinois is working to find out.

Over the past ten years, their farmland protection program has preserved over 5500 acres of farmland in the county and they are currently considering a new amendment to broaden investments in local food production. New investments would include small farms and organic farmers producing fruits, vegetables and meats, intended to increase availability of fresh produce in schools, farmers markets, corner stores, and other sites in the community.

Enter the Health Impact Project. HIP is a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund Health Impact Assessments (HIA) that will be used to inform policies at any level of government. Kane County won funding from this project and is expected to produce their HIA next month with measurements from their community. The HIA will assess the ways in which their new amendment could affect the health of local residents through, for example, changes in availability and price of fresh fruits and vegetables, food safety, and economic changes resulting from increased food production in the region.

HIAs are conducted by a panel of stakeholders in the community to ensure that they are engaged in considering health and health disparities with any given policy. The assessment is completed in six steps:
A Health Impact Assessment has six steps:

  1. Screening: Determines the need and value of a HIA;
  2. Scoping: Determines which health impacts to evaluate, the methods for analysis, and the work plan for completing the assessment;
  3. Assessment: Provides: a) profile of existing health conditions, and b) evaluation of health impacts;
  4. Recommendations: Provides strategies to manage identified adverse health impacts;
  5. Reporting: Includes development of the HIA report and communication of findings and recommendations; and
  6. Monitoring: Tracks impacts of the HIA on decision making processes and the decision, as well as impacts of the decision on health determinants.

Kane County hopes to use this assessment to inform the debate surrounding their new amendment, hoping that they will find it could lead to improved health.

The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley is doing similar work much closer to home. They created a forum process where they engaged stakeholder organizations from the Valley to discuss their input on community health, and held two series of meetings. In the second set of meetings, they were able to bring back results and analysis from the first round. Participants in the forums were asked what they thought the biggest health concerns in the region were, what would help their community become healthier and what leads to health problems in their area. They were asked follow up questions to these in the second round of meetings.

In these public meetings held last fall, they found that the health care system and services are fragmented, that there is a lack of communication and connection between the community and care providers as well as poverty, lack of jobs and language differences being barriers of access to medical resources. There were also positive findings, the community responded that the local health care providers care about the community and were willing to listen to their needs as well as looking for short and long term solutions to improve community health. Their Community Health Profile breaks down their findings and the particular issues in each city, and can be found here.

Coming Together in the Venn Diagram

The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley has taken an excellent approach to Community Health.  Their recently released “The Road to Health” evaluates the health of the Lehigh Valley community.  If you haven’t read through it yet, definitely read through it now.

This new report gives an excellent overview of the state of health in the Lehigh Valley, something Renew Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium touched upon at the State of the Lehigh Valley luncheon in February 2012.  But this report follows up on the call to action issued at the end of our luncheon; it shows where we are and where we have to go in order to be healthy.

A healthy community is a sustainable community.  And it’s one reason why I wanted to highlight the Health Care Council’s work.  When organizations like Renew Lehigh Valley and outreach efforts like Envision Lehigh Valley seek to plan for the future in a smarter and more efficient way, we often get into our silos. Yet, why can’t we see the larger picture?  Envision Lehigh Valley may be one effort to plan for a sustainable future for the Lehigh Valley to ensure a high quality of life, but “The Road to Health” is doing the same thing just in a different arena.  We all are working for the same goal. 

It’s like a Venn Diagram.  One outreach Imageeffort in the Valley is focused on land use and economic development, another is focused on community health, and yet another is focused on education and the connection to the neighborhoods.  They all have the same goal, and that center area where all the circles overlap is where we must focus our efforts. If we are to make the Lehigh Valley a sustainable community, we must all work together and support our various efforts.

So, I encourage you to join us at one of the Health Care Council’s two health forums being held in our area.  All those efforts in the Venn Diagram are seeking public input, as they should in order to truly have community support.  So come out Wednesday, November 28th to the Fowler Family Center at Northampton Community College (511 E. 3rd St, Bethlehem) from 7-9pm OR join them Thursday, November 29th at the Salvation Army (144 N. 8th St, Allentown) from 7-9pm.

We’re all seeking to ensure a high quality, sustainable life in the Lehigh Valley. Let’s all work together to see the bigger picture, rather than individual puzzle pieces.

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