City News

YMCA partnership leads to better nutrition

During her year of membership, Gail Esprit said she has reaped the many benefits of the Stratford-Richardson YMCA. Between the water aerobics class and a diabetes prevention program, Esprit has lost 45 pounds.

She’s kept closer tabs on her diet this fall by becoming a regular customer at the Y’s farmers market, a joint venture with Sow Much Good, a Mecklenburg County organization that distributes local fresh vegetables and fruits.

“Going to the Y is for us to keep our minds and bodies going,” said Esprit, a 60-year-old Beacon Hill resident. “If you go to the Y and you don’t take advantage of everything they offer, it doesn’t make any sense.”

According to the leaders of the two nonprofits, the recent partnership between the Stratford-Richardson Y and Sow Much Green will produce many benefits.

Depending on the age group, Y members will have access to tasting workshops, guest speakers and recipe cards, all aimed to increase awareness about healthy eating.

The Stratford-Richardson Y’s recent focus on nutrition was accelerated through a conversation that leaders had with a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council in the spring. Erin Brighton pointed out that the Y is in a “food desert,” an area where sources of food are limited to fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

Rashaunda Jackson, community liaison at Barringer Academic Center, which is within walking distance of the Y, connected Y leaders with Robin Emmons, founder and executive director of Sow Much Good.

Emmons discussed her desire to switch locations of one of Sow Much Good’s farmers markets. Joyce Tompkins and Adrianne Hobbs, the Y’s operations director and executive director, respectively, offered their facility as an alternative.

Starting in early November, on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, Sow Much Good associate Maya Sullivan set up shop inside the Stratford-Richardson Y’s lobby. Because of the growing season, most of what the market offered was greens, radishes, beets, kale and pumpkins. However, the market is on hiatus for the winter.

Still, it appears the initial effort was a success.

Sullivan saw a lot of regular customers, many of them from the Y’s Older Active Adults program. Four days a week, the Y provides transportation for older adults within a 5- to 7-mile radius so they can participate in several programs.

“I love hearing their stories about having their own gardens,” Sullivan said. “And they tell me how they prepare their collard greens. I’ve learned a lot through those experiences.”

Esprit accepted a recipe from Sullivan for a soup with hot peppers. Adding some garlic, garbanzo beans and tomato sauce, Esprit whipped up a concoction she was told would help keep the flu and colds away.

The Y is home to a medical referral program in which clients can have their blood pressure, cholesterol and medication monitored by an on-location Carolinas Healthcare System nurse. Those clients receive discount coupons to the farmers market, which is taking a winter hiatus and will return in the spring with a seasonal selection of food.

Members of the Stratford-Richardson Y’s after-school program are also benefiting by the Sow Much Green partnership.

Staff members have pulled some of the usual sugary snacks their children are used to and replaced them with some of the fresh foods from the Sow Much Good market. Kids now often eat carrot sticks and salads instead of potato chips and honey buns.

As they pick up their children in the afternoons, parents are sometimes offered samples of the day’s snacks and provided with recommendations about how they can change the types of snacks they give their children.

Next summer, Emmons has promised that she will provide instruction to children in the Y’s Junior Chef Club, teaching them about juicing and giving cooking demonstrations.