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News ‘Mountain Wise’ works to make WNC healthy

When there weren't enough members to take action on anything at last week's county planning board meeting, the members who were present discussed a variety of topics for a short time before adjourning; one of them being the possibility of a new farmer's market at the Cowee Heritage Center. An organization called MountainWise was commended for their efforts in trying to make that happen, spurring the question, who exactly is MountainWise?

MountainWise is funded by the North Carolina Community Transformation Grant (CTG) Project and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CTG Project, facilitated in the MountainWise region by Macon County Public Health, supports communities in the development and implementation of initiatives to create healthier communities and reduce chronic disease.

The MountainWise team consists of three Intervention Leads and one Coordinator. These folks are based in Health Departments throughout the region. These four individuals work within the eight westernmost counties of North Carolina to provide opportunities for physical activity, access to local fresh fruits and vegetables, provide support for tobacco- free places and access to services for chronicdisease management.

“When environments encourage and are supportive of healthy choices, it becomes easier to make those choices,” says regional coordinator, Sarah Tennyson. “By honoring traditions and embracing the natural resources of the mountains, we can make the healthy choice the easy choice. In turn, this strengthens the health of all residents in the communities of the far west.”

As it was suggested at the planning board meeting, MountainWise is attempting to help and increase access to farmers markets and roadside stands here in Macon County through supplies, assessment work, media promotions, convening partners and various training opportunities.

The supplies that they are helping to provide range from signage and canopies to coolers and shopping bags while the media campaigns urge locals to eat more fruits and vegetables via TV ads, radio spots, billboards, newspaper ads, and roadside signs.

According to Tennyson, the organization is also working in partnership with Western Carolina University's Nutrition Department to gather information for the Rural Eating Assessment Project (REAP). REAP will be used to learn about the barriers that people encounter that may make them less likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Macon County was one of the areas that was surveyed and will directly lead to recommendations that will be made for future initiatives.

Another study will come about soon when MountainWise partners with the Southwestern North Carolina Planning and Economic Development Commission on a Regional Health Impact Assessment called Mountain Elements. This project will look at existing comprehensive plans, like the one that Macon County has, and incorporate health components/ health considerations to new and existing county comprehensive plans, develop tools and best practices for integrating public health strategies into future plans. Macon County will be included in the assessment.

Like any organization, MountainWise has developed goals to help guide it in its mission concerning healthy eating, physical activity, and tobacco free living. “MountainWise is currently in the 'pilot phase' of a new initiative called MountainMarkets,” said Tennyson. “This project will work with local convenience stores throughout the region to help promote healthy, affordable foods in more places. The MountainWise team will work with stores to find ways to enhance and promote the sale of healthy items. This program is currently being piloted at Caney Fork General (Jackson County) and Bethel Grocery (Haywood County). We hope to expand to the rest of the region in the future.”

She also hopes that the organization will effectively increase physical activity opportunities throughout the rural communities by partnering with a wide variety of community partners such as schools, communities of faith, parks and recreations, United States Forest Service, private businesses, etc. to open up facilities in the community that promote physical activity.

As far as their tobacco-free goals, Tennyson says that Macon County has already been declared a good example.

“With Macon County already taking the lead in implementing a tobacco-free parks and rec. policy in 2012, we hope to continue to support other communities interested in increasing tobacco-free places.”

Every Monday evening, MountainWise sponsors free workouts at the Community Services Building in Sylva starting at 5:15 followed by another at 6:30. More information can be found at www.mountainwise.org.


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