Making A Difference in Our County
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is working hard for its constituents. The following are examples of Extension’s impact in the county over the past year.
Family and Consumer Sciences
Improving Access to Physical Activity and Healthier Food Options to Prevent Chronic Disease
Summary: Six of the top ten leading causes of death in the US are related to chronic diseases for which nutrition and physical activity are modifiable risk factors. Education and social support for both youth and adults are imperative to improve individual nutrition and health behavior. Tackling these issues are complex and require a multi-faceted approach. Stewart County is working to increase access to healthier food options and physical activity enhancements to improve the health of the community.
Community gardens increase access to fresh vegetables, encourage healthy eating habits, and grow social relationships and trust among community members. As a part of the Healthier Together Grant, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raised garden beds have been installed in Stewart County. The garden locations provide community members with the opportunity to harvest their own vegetables and learn about the benefits of gardening.
Situation: Stewart County is a rural community with a population of 4,621 people. The median household income is $24,900. The poverty rate is 37.9% with most of the county defined as a USDA food desert. 35% of adults are obese as determined by the Centers for Disease Control. Due to limited access to healthy foods and physical activity, Stewart County residents have increased rates of chronic disease and poor health indicators.
Response: Through a 5-year CDC Grant, the FACS Agent has developed a community coalition to identify, plan, and implement projects that will provide healthy food options and physical activity improvements to citizens. The community coalition and Extension team installed over 1,000 square feed of planting space in 44 raised garden beds across the county. Raised beds are located in downtown Richland, city park, health department, the school, and the county Extension office. The Extension office installed the gardens, educated volunteers to plant/grow/harvest produce, and provide solutions to garden issues.
Additionally, in order to encourage physical activity to reduce obesity rates, Extension has worked with leaders at the City of Lumpkin and City of Richland to submit four applications for the renovation of 4 parks through the Healthier Together grant funding. Renovations included plans to create safe spaces for residents to engage in more physical activity as well as improving existing equipment.
Impact: The raised garden beds have flourished and provided citizens a new access point for fresh produce. A variety of vegetables were produced and available for families to harvest throughout the season. While the gardens have met the initial objective of providing more healthy foods options, they have generated an opportunity for conversation around healthy eating and availability of produce in a historically food desert community. Many community members commented about the excitement surrounding the gardens: “I'm seeing more people getting interested in the garden itself. And I know that when the summer crop comes out, we're going to see more people get very interested.” Additionally, the community gardens were identified as the main source of increased healthy food access within the community. Related to community acceptance, one coalition member explained that “if we didn’t have [the program] next year, people would complain.”
Respondents were asked to indicate if they had used the Richland Community Garden in the past year, and 14 respondents (50.0%) said they had used it. Respondents were also asked to describe their eating habits over the past year. Eleven (39.3%) said they eat healthier food than they did last year, 17 (60.7%) said they eat the same kind of food as they did last year, and no respondents (0.0%) said they eat less healthy food than they did last year. When asked the same question about their family’s eating habits over the past year, 12 (42.9%) said their family ate healthier food than they did last year, 16 (57.1%) said their family eats the same kind of food as they did last year, and no respondents (0.0%) said their family eats less healthy food than they did last year.
All four of the park locations have been approved for renovations. The City of Lumpkin has received $2,353 to improve two park locations with basketball goals, walking trail, a new tennis net, and safety improvements on current equipment. Additionally, the City of Richland applied to create a new park in the amount of $15,900. The park will be located within walking distance by residents who live in low-income government housing. The application has been approved for construction in 2022. The last park improvement is in collaboration with the City of Richland and the American Legion to secure two pieces of exercise equipment within a newly renovated park in the amount of $5,078.
4-H Youth Development
The Stewart County 4-H Club had a successful year led by Blair Harris, Stewart County 4-H program assistant. Eight Junior/Senior 4-H members attended District Project Achievement event where they learned to research, writing, and public speaking skills while developing the confidence to stand up in front of a group and deliver a presentation. Harris led a series of Portfolio workdays, community service activities, and helped make sure each of these 4-H’ers were prepared for competition! During the year, Harris leads in-school monthly club meetings to recruit new 4-H’ers while keeping those who participate going. Harris also has helped lead many teaching demonstrations with the help of 4-H’ers. One of those demonstrations was during a health fair. Harris and a 4-H’er talked about the importance of healthy fruits and even made a Four-Fruit Smoothie using the 4-H Smoothie bike!
Georgia 4-H’ers are well-known for sharing their knowledge and volunteering throughout their communities. At the school and county levels, students participate in club meetings organized by 4-H Youth Development Extension agents. At the state level, students participate in competitions, summer camps and conferences. Some 4-H competitions and events are also offered at the regional and national levels. Research indicates that, as a result of participating in 4-H, members are more engaged in their academic studies, less likely to be involved in risky behavior, and more likely to graduate from high school and continue their education.
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Stewart County is known for its agriculture and natural resources. Agriculture occupied 59,254 acres and generated $21.9 million in total farm gate value in 2019. Timber sales and hunting leases accounted for $10.3 million of the total farm-gate value in 2017, or 53%. Row and forage crops are grown on 8,506 acres make up 28% of the total farm-gate value ($5.4 million), with peanuts and cotton being the most widely grown crops. Other crops were grown on fewer acres but were a valuable source of diversification for farmers, especially hay, corn, and wheat. Pecans provided another $1.2 million in farm gate value. Other agricultural enterprises in Stewart County include livestock (primarily cattle and horses), guide services, and wildlife food plots.
Title: Collaboration with IRT Brings Critical Services and Resources to Residents of Stewart County
Summary: UGA Extension Stewart County partnered to bring needed no cost medical services to Southwest Georgia through the Innovative Readiness Training. The training is a partnership between military personnel, community organizations, and volunteers that provides services such as medical, optometry, dental, physical therapy, behavioral health, pharmacy, and veterinary care to all residents. Services were received by 538 individuals over a ten-day period with an estimated fair market value of over $200,000.
Situation: Across the state of Georgia, many rural communities struggle with limited access to healthcare for various reasons. Stewart County is certainly one of those counties. Stewart County is a rural community with a population of 5,341 people. The median household income is $24,900. The poverty rate is 31.3% with 19% of the population living without insurance. Additionally, over 20% of households report not having a vehicle available for transportation. With limited healthcare provided in the county in combination with the statistics above, residents struggle to receive medical care.
Furthermore, military personnel need training in order to be prepared for missions. The training missions provide currency training for military professionals to include medical, logistics, communications, public affairs, leadership, and chaplain training—increasing overall unit deployment readiness.
Response: UGA Extension Stewart County partnered with the US Department of Defense to bring needed no cost medical services to Southwest Georgia through the Innovative Readiness Training. Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) is a Department of Defense military training opportunity, exclusive to the United States and its territories, that delivers joint training opportunities to increase deployment readiness. Simultaneously, IRT provides key services (health care, construction, transportation, and cybersecurity) with lasting benefits for our American communities.
Valley Healthcare System in Columbus, Georgia was selected as a site for the IRT mission. Since the need is high and transportation is challenging, Stewart County was selected as a satellite site. In order to be a site, the location must provide service and support through volunteers, materials, and venues. Stewart County Extension was an integral part of this equation. Extension was able to assist with each of these areas through serving as a site host including preparing the space, providing meals, providing volunteers, and distributing educational materials to improve the lives of individuals receiving care. The Extension office also served as the marketing lead by creating and distributing a flyer for the event.
Impact: The event resulted in collaborative efforts between Valley Healthcare System, Piedmont Columbus Regional, and many community partners. As a result of collaboration, 538 individuals received care at the Stewart County site. 314 pairs of glasses were provided. 30 volunteers serving over 100 hours. Additionally, 50 patients received critical care with five being admitted for hospital care. The services provided had an estimated fair market value of $203,000.
In addition to the care provided, Stewart County Extension partnered with Family Connection to offer a one-day health fair. The health fair consisted of 15 community partners who serve Stewart County. Over 50 participants attended the event. 16 car seats were also provided to community members who either did not have appropriate car seats for their children or did not have a seat at all. The ten-day event provided needed medical services for the rural community while also providing hands-on, real-world training to improve readiness and survivability in complex contingency environments for military personnel.