Healthiest Cities and Counties Community Spotlight Series: Waco/McLennan County, TX

Tags: Health

The Waco Health District and partner organizations are helping residents access and eat healthy foods by promoting current resources of fresh and locally grown food through nutrition education sessions and a Mobile Farmer’s Market.

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Waco/McLennan County, Texas: Community Efforts to Increase Consumption of Locally Grown Fresh Foods

What are some of the greatest health challenges that the members in your community face?

We have seen through various surveys, needs assessments and partnering organizations' data that there are a variety of disparities faced by those in our Waco community – higher rates of poverty, limited access of fresh produce and a large percentage of African Americans and Hispanics facing obesity and related diseases. Reducing rates of chronic disease and obesity has been one of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District's top priorities. Research has shown that where you reside, specifically the zip code that you live in, can be a greater determinate of a persons' health outcomes. With this being said, the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge funds are serving 3 zip codes showing increased rates of chronic disease, specifically obesity and a large part of that population live in USDA-declared Food Desert Tracts.

What are some of the health initiatives, specifically related to the Challenge's work, that are taking place in your community?

The projects and partners that are currently overcoming these challenges include: Mission Waco, an organization that opened a non-profit grocery store in an identified food desert and offers affordable fresh and healthy foods along with nutrition education. The Waco Downtown Farmer's Market (WDFM) has provided recipe workshops with local and celebrity chefs using ingredients from the Farmer's Market itself and has hosted chef demonstrations and cooking skills workshops. The Office of Community Engagement & Service at Baylor University, Waco Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Hispanic Chamber have worked together to host healthy culturally-specific food demonstrations to the community throughout the year. The Veggie Van is a mobile farm stand focused on addressing the food desert issue in Waco by working with our Federally Qualified Health Center–the Family Health Center—to bring produce to multiple clinics, allowing physicians to write prescriptions for produce and then for the patients to take home fresh, culturally appropriate produce. The McLennan County Community Health Worker Initiative, a program housed within the Health District, has certified members of the community to be Community Health Workers. This group of individuals engages and informs residents on existing resources and how to access them. Last but not least, the Health District continues to use its networking resources to reach out to local farmers to encourage the distribution of produce to local food pantries, such as Caritas.

Can you share either a personal story or an observation that might help illustrate the impact this initiative and/or the Challenge has had on you/your community?

Our culturally relevant cooking demonstrations always draw a large crowd and has proven that people are interested in learning how to cook healthy food and are left with more knowledge than they came with. When asking one of our Healthy Soul Food attendees what she gained from the event, she replied with, "The Healthy Soul Food Cooking Demonstration has been an eye-opening opportunity for me over the years! To learn how to make healthier southern foods such as collards, sweet potato pie and chicken gumbo has assisted my family members in lowering our cholesterol and making better choices at the grocery store. I now cook my collard greens with turkey meat instead of ham hock. Another value of this event is learning more about decreasing the mental health stigma in the African American community. The partnerships for this event are incredible! We have such a great time!"

Can you describe the progress of your project? What has been accomplished?

There is quite a bit of progress and outcomes to report on due to the nature of our cross-sector collaboration and partnerships. I will instead give a couple of examples:

  • Since the WDFM chef demonstrations, the Farmer's Market has seen a 10-15% increase in sales for farmers.
  • The McLennan County Community Health Worker Initiative has graduated 9 CHWs, who have been critical in educating community members on the various initiatives, projects and events relating to eating healthy and where to access fresh produce.

What does it mean to be part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge?

I am continually amazed at the determination of our community partners to improve the lives of the people living in Waco. Waco's various organizations and the people that run them is why we are experiencing such success in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. It means so much to be working with such passionate people and even more to have been given the opportunity through the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge to impact the Waco community.

Adapted from the original post on the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Learning Network. For more information on this and other Healthiest Cities and County Challenge Projects, visit the Challenge website at

Counties across the nation have accepted the challenge to make measurable changes in their community  as Finalists in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. This County Spotlight Series highlights county Challenge teams’ progress and achievements.

Click here to view the full series.

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