MDC leads community college network to build Healthy Places in rural North Carolina
ROCKY MOUNT, N.C.—Chef Frank Bookhardt was talking about the time he overcooked the cauliflower.
It’s not the kind of thing you’d expect a professional chef and culinary teacher to be telling a gathering of more than 30 community college leaders focusing on ways to address community health needs. But they were about to dig into a gorgeous buffet of Cauliflower Alfredo topped with shrimp and mussels—all inspired by that overcooked cauliflower.
There was a time when Chef Frank might have tossed the cauliflower and started over. But he’s now an integral part of the Healthy Places initiative at Nash Community College, so he had an idea, he explained to the group—he pureed the cauliflower, did his chef’s magic with some tasty ingredients, and voila, created an alfredo sauce with less than half the calories of standard alfredo sauce and significantly reduced fat and cholesterol. And it was rich and delicious (you can see the recipe here).
The folks he was feeding were from seven North Carolina community colleges that are part of a learning network being designed and led by MDC to share ideas and ways that community colleges can address rural health needs.
That’s part of a larger, decade-long, $100 million initiative of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, N.C., called Healthy Places North Carolina, which is working with leaders from across the spectrum of organizations and institutions in rural counties to help them create their own, unique continuum in which multiple institutions and residents are assessing and addressing community health needs in a holistic way. The initiative is currently in seven counties, and expects to expand into five more.
“Good health includes many factors beyond medical care, including education, jobs, smoking, housing, and more—factors that communities can work together to do something about,” Allen Smart, the Trust’s vice president for programs, explains in an op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal. “Healthy Places NC starts the conversation with many of these rural communities by helping residents understand how so many factors impact long-term health. There are untapped assets in every community to help tackle these pressing concerns.”
And one asset accessible to every community is a community college—which is where Chef Frank comes in. He is the chef at Nash CC and a culinary arts instructor who is demonstrating and teaching healthy cooking and eating practices to students, staff, faculty, and beyond.
“The Healthy Places initiative is what brought to our attention that there’s a need in Nash and Edgecombe counties for a change in education about the way we eat,” he says. “It’s allowed me the freedom to go and look into these different recipes, these different methods. We were really concentrating on classic cuisine, but now we take another look and ask how we can change these things while still keeping it a French meal, while cutting out all the cream and butter.”
That perspective is being infused into many of the college’s culinary arts courses. Bookhardt and other instructors are leading healthy-eating seminars and classes for being gluten-free, vegetarian, and “eating clean”—understanding and then reducing the amount of processed food in our diets.
That’s influencing a change in the eating habits on campus among students, faculty and staff, away from the traditional fried chicken and collards—with lots of pork fat—to more lean proteins such as fish, Bookhardt says.
Working from inside the colleges and then out into the community is why community colleges are an important part of Healthy Places NC, says Jenna Bryant, a program manager at
MDC working on the program at Nash and in the six other colleges with faculty who were at Nash CC for a gathering in June.
“Community colleges are institutions that touch not only students and faculty on campus, they generally have a relationship in the broader community and can function as a change agent,” Bryant says. “We’re helping them determine the best ways to improve the culture of health in their communities.”
Some are creating wellness workshops focused on physical and mental health. Others are offering students and faculty more amenities and opportunities that also can reach into the community. Nash CC, for instance, has created vegetable gardens, a walking trail, fitness room, and a dining room equipped for culinary demonstrations and seminars through Healthy Places NC. One college is extending access to health services through telemedicine. And all are convening partners to talk about ways they can work together to improve community health.
The goal is to make health in these counties—ones that traditionally have a poor distribution of doctors—an entryway to improving the overall wellbeing of everyone who lives there. That way, people will be better able to live, work, and improve their lives.
“When people aren’t healthy,” Bryant says, “they can’t go to school. And that’s what it takes to get new skills and better jobs.”