Thank you, Pittsburgh, for giving residents and visitors safer streets for walking, biking, and increased physical activity!
As Appalachian Transition Fellow, Mae wears many hats. Working with the Community Farm Alliance, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Mae has found that “childhood obesity is a product of a system,” and that each and every one of us has a part in solving the issue at hand. We are happy to feature this week’s Gimme Five with Mae, and hope you’ll enjoy it much as we did! Connect with Mae directly through her PreventObesity.net profile here.
Name: Mae Humiston
Title: Appalachian Transition Fellow
Organization: Community Farm Alliance
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
My motivation to work on childhood obesity comes from memories of my own childhood. I grew up playing outside as much as possible: running around our yard, chasing my little brother, sneaking summertime tomatoes off the vine, and crafting complex fantastical games on the playground with my crew. Today, walking through the grocery store, I see kids huffing and puffing just walking down the aisles. The carts in front of them are laden with sugary, processed snacks. It’s heartbreaking! Knowing that kids aren’t having that run-till-you-drop-giggling time of their life because of their diet and weight adds an urgency to the work I do. My work focuses on healthy food access for all people and combatting systems that privilege high sugar, low nutrient foods over the far more delicious tomato grown next door.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
Childhood obesity is a product of a system, and to fix that system we need a huge team of people working on all the different parts. That is exactly what I do. I work as part of a team that includes Community Farm Alliance, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. These organizations are focused on increasing access and affordability to fresh, local food and supporting Kentucky farmers. Included in this work is the Farm to School program, which connects students to healthy, local food; food education; and the Summer Feeding Program, which ensures kids don’t miss meals when they’re not in school during the summer. Last summer, the Letcher County Farmers Market became the first farmers market to host a Summer Feeding site in Kentucky (and the third in the nation!). We got to the market early, purchased produce, and then used it to create free and affordable meals for people in need who came to our cart. There are many steps in making these projects possible and getting healthy food to kids who need it. I am proud to be doing my part in my tiny piece of the system and supporting these projects.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
Every time I connect a farmer to Farm to School, I get a sense of satisfaction out of knowing that extra money is going into that farmer’s pocket and students are getting something that didn’t come out of a can or sit on a shelf for weeks. A two-in-one deal! It’s through dedicated time and teamwork that Perry County’s Farm to School program serves ten schools and, in 2014, spent 13 percent of school food dollars on Kentucky grown products and ranked seventh in the state for locally-purchased foods. While I might not be the one going into the schools and working with the students, I know that my work with our farmers market, local food stories and other community efforts shape the system to give kids more access to the fruits and veggies they now know they love!
Who is your role model in your work?
It’s so typical to have your mom as your role model, but it’s true! My mom got my little brother and me outside to play, and she always tried to make sure we were eating our fruits and vegetables. In addition to raising healthy children, she works as a public school teacher in a system that often works against her. Watching her persist through frustrations and hearing her success stories helps me see that, while systemic issues like poor food access and childhood obesity most days seem vast and unconquerable, keeping at it can make a difference!
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved sharing with my parents a fresh, juicy, red tomato sliced up, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and served on a paper plate that is delightfully soggy with red juice by the end of the snack.
Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.