Community Gardening: A Great Way to Build Community

 Community gardens are usually gardened collectively by a group of people. They are places where neighbors can congregate, interact, and learn from one another. Gardens are open spaces to grow food, recreate, and relax. They play an important role in beautifying the neighborhood and help in building community by bringing neighbors together. There are so many benefits to community gardening like eating fresh fruits and vegetables; engaging in physical activity; building skills; creating green space; beautifying vacant lots; revitalizing communities in industrial areas; reviving and beautifying public parks; decreasing violence in some neighborhoods; and improving social well-being through strengthening social connections.

As I learn more about community gardening, I am amazed at the movement across the country. According to the American Community Gardening Association, there are over 18,000 community gardens in the U.S. and Canada. There are numerous community gardens through the Omaha metropolitan area; however, no community gardens exist in South Omaha.

Understanding the community and appropriate messaging strategies is imperative for designing any community initiative especially those that require community participation and engagement, such as a community garden. Currently, there is a community planning team to develop a community garden in South Omaha. We invite you to participate in a short survey to share your opinions about community gardening: South Omaha Community Garden Survey.


A Cambio de Colores in the Midwest

Cambio.  What is cambio?  Well, it’s a change.  Colores.  Well, that means colors.  Why are we talking about a change of colors?  Because our Midwestern communities are changing in many respects and  we are witnesses to demographic shifts.

  • Nebraska has some of the country’s fastest growing communities of color, and our Hispanic/Latino population has nearly doubled since the 2000 U.S. Census.
  • Currently, almost 10% of Nebraska’s population is of Hispanic/Latino descent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 population estimate), and it is predicted that the number of Hispanic/Latinos in the state will more than triple by the year 2050 due to not just to migration/immigration, but also natural change.
  • According to the Pew Hispanic Trust, approximately 2.4% of Nebraska’s population is unauthorized.

This week, I’m at the Cambio de Colores Conference, which serves as a unique venue to share, learn, discuss, and identify critical areas where the development of information and promising practices will facilitate the successful transition of newcomers into communities large and small.  I believe that being able to integrate newcomers into the fabric of our communities is going to be imperative for the growth and prosperity of the state.  A hostile reception to newcomers and immigrants  will not move communities forward.  In fact, hostile receiving communities:

  • Contribute to the reduction in public safety by increasing fear of police making individuals less likely to contact law enforcement (Ford Foundation, Insecure Communities, 2013)
  • Decrease physical and mental health status by increasing stress levels and feelings of isolation
  • Perpetuate cycles of inequality

According to the Ford Foundation, “A growing number of aggressive local measures attempting to restrict every aspect of life, including housing, education and employment, push immigrants into a marginalized existence.”  Educating receiving communities on the economic benefits of immigration and the reality of globalization may help in dispelling the myths and stereotypes related with immigration.  We need to work together to build strong, vibrant healthy communities for all.

Did you know that there are already 62 cities in the U.S. that have Latino majority populations “Pueblos” as J.S. Onesimo Sandoval labels them, and there are 397 burgeoning pueblos within the next 5-15 years.

What are the characteristics of successful pueblos?  What are these communities doing right that other communities can learn from in terms of integrating newcomers?   How can we work across differences in color, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, and other divides to create communities of promise for all?


New Immigrants Bring Opportunities to Small Towns

New Immigrants Bring Opportunities to Small Towns

According to the Center for Rural Affairs:

“Immigration is reshaping the landscape of rural America. A rapidly growing Hispanic population is driving the trend. New immigrants are offsetting population loss, a challenge faced by many small communities.  In our home state of Nebraska, the Hispanic population will triple by 2050, accounting for 25% of the state population. More than 40% of this growth is happening in rural communities. The majority population in several Nebraska small towns has shifted to Hispanic.”

Two areas to focus on include:

  1. Building inclusive and welcoming communities
  2. Small business development

Study Seeks to Improve Lives for Migrant Farmworkers in Nebraska

Aida Olivas, with the Nebraska Migrant Education Program, introduces the study team to a group of migrant workers.

Aida Olivas, with the Nebraska Migrant Education Program, introduces the study team to a group of migrant workers.

Here’s the link to the recent article published about the Migrant Farmworker Health Study in Nebraska:

This study was conducted over the summer of 2013 by my team and I throughout five central Nebraska counties.  We surveyed 200 Latino migrant farmworkers about their health status, stress, substance use, and depression.  This pilot study was funded by the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety & Health (CS-CASH).

We are now in the dissemination phase where we want to share the findings with other stakeholders and brainstorm together about how we can improve lives for migrant farmworkers in our state.

Symposium on Small Towns 2014: Co-Creating Our Future

MN farmThis week I have the opportunity to participate in the the Symposium on Small Towns in Morris, Minnesota.  It was about a five hour drive up here, and I spent most of my time looking at the farms and the land.  I caught myself thinking about rural life and the significance of place in our lives.

During today’s sessions there was a strong focus on rewriting the rural narrative.  There is so much negative press out there about rural communities and that they are losing population, closing schools and hospitals, and that main streets dying; however, people’s experience limits what they can see.  Rural communities are changing, not dying.  Obviously, there is an impact of globalization and economies of scale, but most are not unincorporating and closing shop.  Thanks to Ben Winchester from the Center for Community Vitality and Randy Cantrell from University of Nebraska Extension, I learned that these are stereotypes and myths that exist.  Facts are that rural population in shear numbers has increased although the percentage of people living in rural areas has decreased from 26% to 19%.  In essence, we need to change our own narratives from a deficit-based approach to an asset-based approach…instead of the focus on the “brain drain” we should focus on the “brain gain” whereby there is an in-migration of 30-49 year olds into rural areas because of quality of life factors.  Additionally, there is in-migration to small towns from immigrants.  So newcomers are making there way into small towns.

A “newcomer” is defined as someone who has lived in a community less than five years.  Here’s some interesting facts about “newcomers” in Nebraska:

  • 40% have bachelor’s degrees
  • 48% have household incomes of over $50K
  • 43% of children
  • They are generally leaving their career and are underemployed in the new community, yet quality of life is more important.
  • 60% say that they will be living there five years from now and the more communities are friendly and trusting the more people want to stay.
  • Newcomers want to live in a place that has vision and where they can see an opportunity to participate and co-create that future.

Leadership and capacity-building is an important issue to highlight.  We need a strategy in order to grow what we need.  Little did I realize, but in Nebraska, there are 27.7 people for every elected or non-profit leadership position.  That means that there is a great opportunity to serve and build this vision for a stronger state, whereas in other places there are fewer of these types of opportunities.  In fact, in urban areas there are 144 people for every position.  How do you harness that opportunity?  We need to rethink our engagement strategy and find ways to bring non-traditional partners to the table.  Instead of doing things “to” or “for” people, we need to do things “with” people and engage them in re-imagining what could be.

Moving forward we need to hear an authentic voice about community assets and build relationships to strengthen the niche, promote the assets, build social capital, and connect the community.  This is a promising way to develop lasting community change that both honors the history, tradition, and people of the area and also allows for new voices, ideas, and visions to be heard.

SOURCE: Small Towns Symposium, 2014: Ben Wichester & Randy Cantrell, Rewriting the Rural Narrative; Craig Schroeder, Discussing the Youth Voice.

Tobacco Control Prevention and Outreach Program is Working in Nebraska

Throughout the last twelve years, we have been working hard in Nebraska to reduce tobacco use, exposure to secondhand smoke, and tobacco-related disparities as well as to promote health throughout communities. In Omaha, a number of groups, organizations, and individuals are working together through MOTAC, the Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition.

We have had a number of successes including:

  • Tobacco product placement law to put all tobacco products behind the counter
  • Smoke-free air law for Nebraska
  • Increased smoke-free housing options including working towards smoke-free apartments
  • Tobacco-free campus policies for all major hospital systems – Alegent, Creighton, Methodist, and UNMC
  • Tobacco-free grounds organizational policies
  • Outreach to communities that experience a disproportionate burden of tobacco including Latinos, LGBT individuals, and African-Americans

UNMC Center for Reducing Health Disparities, Tobacco Outreach Team:
Ariss Rogel Mendoza, Antonia Correa, and Athena Ramos

Today, we got to meet up with Dr. Scout, the Director of the LGBT Network for Health Equity. We had a great conversation about some of the things that are working with our program. Dr. Scout will be spending the next few days with us teaching us about best practices in tobacco control, outreach to priority populations, and much more.

Here’s a link to Dr. Scout’s recent blog about what’s going on here locally:

Lots of work is being done in communities across the state to make our state more healthy and safe for everyone!

Agricultural Medicine Course Opened My Eyes

Wow! I just spent the last week or so emerged in learning about agricultural and medicine through an agricultural medicine course at UNMC.  This course opened my eyes to some of the dangers related with this industry.  Agricultural medicine is an interdisciplinary study in occupational and environmental health within the agricultural community.  Agriculture is the most dangerous industry/occupation in the world.

I guess, like many other people, I never realized or never really thought about the occupational and environmental hazards of production agriculture before I learned about this class.  Now, I have a much better understanding and appreciation for what really goes into producing the food that we share on our table everyday.  I want to share some of the basics here:

  • There are many health issues related with production agriculture including hearing loss, chemical exposures, animal exposures, skin diseases, vibration injuries, respiratory diseases, musculoskeletal issues, exposure to extreme weather, and of course, injuries occurring from equipment especially tractors.  Many agricultural injuries, diseases, and fatalities could be prevented.  There is a need for a comprehensive approach to farm safety.
  • There are about 540 deaths per/year in the United States equating to a fatality rate of about 30 deaths/100,000 workers.  This is higher than any other industry including construction and manufacturing.
  • There are groups that are at a higher risk for injury on the farm including children, older adults, farm workers, and anabaptist groups.  Some of the reasons for this include the lack of childcare facilities near agricultural centers, unsafe play areas, use of older farm equipment, lack of adequate personal protective equipment, potential limited English proficiency, and adherence to traditional ways of working the land.
  • Contrary to popular belief, not all farming is regulated.  In fact, family farms are not subject to OSHA regulations. Only farms that have 11 or more hired workers/employees are subject to OSHA regulations.
  • The 3 E’s of safety are Engineering, Enforcement, and Education; however, the most effective way to prevent some of these injuries and exposures is to engineer them out of the farm and the equipment.

Here are some links if you want to learn more:

Bold women saluted at UNMC event

Bold women saluted at UNMC event

by Jo Giles, UNMC public relations

From left: Event participants Fran Higgins, Linda Cunningham, Bobbie Ausubel and Athena Ramos display a banner that will hang in various locations on campus. Throughout the month, employees, faculty and staff are encouraged to add the name of a woman who inspired them.

Although the women’s movement began in 1840, our country is still celebrating “firsts” for women 170 years later.

One of the noted pioneers, Bobbi Ausubel, came to UNMC to inspire and encourage faculty, staff and students to continue to be courageous … even in the routine aspects of their lives.

“Grab your fear and walk with it. Even if you are trembling along the way to doing what’s right,” she said during the “That Takes Ovaries: Bold Women and Their Brazen Acts” event on March 11. It was part of UNMC’s 2010 Diversity Lectures and Cultural Arts Series.

Ausubel moderated the event, which included dramatic performances of real stories of courage by gusty women: women who stood up for their sexual identity, who were not limited by physical disability and who stood boldly in the face of a late-night home invasion.

Then, medical center employees shared their stories of survival.

They encouraged others to trust their intuition, stand up for themselves and continue the legacy of women’s rights.

Date Published: Friday, March 19, 2010