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Healthy Riverside Initiative Emphasizes Local Food, Looks to Make County # 1 Place to Live in U.S.

April 9, 2015 |

Screenshot 2015-04-09 09.49.43Local food and agriculture is a major component of the Healthy Riverside County Initiative, designed to assist residents of Riverside County, California live healthy lives.

The initiative’s roots started growing in April 2011, when the Riverside County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to encourage all county departments to support healthy lifestyles.

In June 2012, Riverside County CEO Jay Orr included this mission of improved health in a larger vision: to make Riverside County the No. 1 place to live in the United States. One of the goals incorporated into this vision was to improve health in the country through policies, initiatives, systems and partnerships.

“A main focus is healthy eating and active learning, and improving nutrition for county residents,” says Salomeh Wagaw, an epidemiologist with the Riverside County Department of Public Health. “Working objectives include enhancing access to healthy food.”

To achieve the aim of making local food accessible and affordable for Riverside County residents, the county works with the office of County Agricultural Commissioner John Snyder, Riverside County Parks and other county offices. Getting local growers involved in the process and expanding access to farmers’ markets are also key objectives, Wagaw says.

Additionally, the county places an emphasis on mobile farmers’ markets in order to make local food available to people living in the far eastern and western regions of Riverside County, away from the City of Riverside.

The initiative also encourages more Riverside County residents to embrace home gardening, as this will increase production of local fruits and vegetables. “Our main goal is to have the gardens remain sustainable,” says Wagaw.

The initiative depends on partnerships throughout Riverside County, says Wagaw. Key Partnerships include: Building Healthy Communities, a 10-year project to improve health in the City of Coachella and surrounding unincorporated communities; Kaiser Permanente’s Eastside Healthy Eating and Active Living Zone Initiative, focused on improving the health of Riverside’s Eastside neighborhood residents; and Rethink Your Drink, an effort to reduce the consumption of sugary beverages.

The Healthy Riverside County Initiative has also partnered with the county’s Ag Trail, created in 2013 by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in order to highlight agriculture in the county. Agriculture’s impact in Riverside County is huge, according to county Board of Supervisors Board Chairman Marion Ashley, in that it brings in over $3.5 billion and helps create more than 15,000 jobs. The Ag Trail, with over 100 attractions, features farms, farmers’ markets, wineries and more.

Riverside County, through the initiative, participated in the 2014 GrowRIVERSIDE Conference and plans to continue its participation in the 2015 conference (click here to register), scheduled June 11-13. “We’re big supporters of GrowRIVERSIDE,” Wagaw says.

In 2013, Riverside County hosted the Symposium on Food Systems and Public Health, an event held every other year in California (this year’s conference is slated in Sacramento, May 13-15). Its theme was “Safe, Secure, Sustainable.” Hosted by the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, 400 attendees discussed challenges regarding food production in California and worldwide.

Agriculture is but one, albeit significant, piece of the overall puzzle toward a healthy Riverside County, according to Wagaw. One of the Initiative’s main objectives is to beat chronic disease through healthy eating, active living and tobacco control. Wagaw cites stroke, respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes as the causes of about 63 percent of deaths in the county, and focusing on healthy and local food in the county is a crucial way to prevent these chronic illnesses.

“The Healthy Riverside County Initiative provides the environment to be able to do that,” she says, as well as providing support for another of Orr’s goals: to make the county he manages into the No. 1 business-friendly county in California.

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