Early Sprouts and Nutrition Explorers

We all know the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, but how do you get children to try new healthy foods and incorporate more veggies into their daily diets? Arnie Kinnunen, a health educator at Western U.P. Health Department, uses hands-on, research-based garden-to-table activities as he works with hundreds of children ages 4-12 and their families with the goal of introducing them to new foods, gardening, and healthier lifestyles.

The health department received a SNAP Education grant to provide nutrition classes to western U.P. children and families. SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps”), a program of the USDA, funds Michigan grantees to provide nutrition education through a grant to the MNN (Michigan Nutrition Network), and our agency receives funding to provide programs to preschoolers  enrolled in BHK Head Start/Preschool classes across three counties, and to K-6 students in the Great Explorations summer program at 8 elementary schools. We call the preschool program Early Sprouts and the summer gardening program Nutrition Explorers.

The curricula, adapted by Arnie and health department registered dietitian Jean Ballone, feature age-appropriate activities that get kids handling seeds and soil, and tasting various fresh foods. When young people learn where their food comes from and actually plant, grow and harvest vegetables, research shows that they are more likely to add healthy foods into their diets.

Arnie and preschoolers in Aura (rural Baraga County) tasting carrots

Nutrition Explorers planting tomatoes at the L'Anse school, June 2011


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How Does Your Garden Blog?

There’s always something interesting happening in a community garden. Every garden season has its activities, moods, sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Community gardens in Houghton and Hancock, conceived and maintained by residents dedicated to creating sustainable communities and to growing and eating local food, provide great examples you can visit in person and on-line.

Here’s the Pewabic Street (Houghton) Community garden blog link: http://pewabicstreetcommunitygarden.blogspot.com/

This is the Ryan Street (Hancock) Community Garden link: http://ryanstreetgarden.blogspot.com/

Both gardens provide gardening space to city residents and are places where children and adults can learn more about gardening and nutrition. They each have many volunteers and many partners, among them the Western U.P. Health Department, which helped them to receive funding from the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Building Healthy Communities grant program.

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Hello Friends!

This is our big blue building, the main office of the Western U.P. Health Department, in Hancock, Michigan:

Health Department, Hancock

This is our healthy community:

Houghton Waterfront Trail, September 2010

Pewabic Street Community Garden, May 2010


This is our Healthy Western U.P. blog, where we venture beyond the blue building to bring you stories about where we live, work, study, play, shop and eat, featuring the work of public health and partners to build heathier communities for ourselves and our children.

In the days and seasons to come, we will share good news about pedestrian- and bike-friendly communities, community and school gardens, farmers markets, trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, safe routes to school, and other projects that help people become more physically active and eat well as part of their daily routines.

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