Cook County, Georgia

July 2014

Fertile soil, a warm climate and a rich agricultural heritage define rural Cook County. Its farmers grow an array of fruits and vegetables, from greens, squash, beans and tomatoes, to peaches, berries, cantaloupes and watermelons. And its people share an appreciation for the importance and tradition of farming—an appreciation that plays a key role in the south-central Georgia county’s efforts to become a healthy home for children and families.

Despite its bountiful harvests, its predominantly White and African-American population faces serious health problems. The obesity and diabetes rates both exceed the state averages. In 2009, the county ranked as one of the ten poorest in Georgia, with a per capita income under $20,000 and two-thirds of all students qualifying for free or reduced-price school lunches.

But the Cook County Family Connection (CCFC) has brought together more than 40 partners to tackle the county’s health challenges by taking advantage of the local political will. Since early 2009, local leaders have been making physical activity, healthy eating and obesity prevention a countywide priority. Community groups are implementing farmers’ markets and community gardens, faith-based groups and civic clubs are creating new recreational options for youth, and local agencies are collaborating to identify further opportunities.

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) grant helped CCFC build on this motivation for the county’s nearly 17,000 residents. The partnership used funding through HKHC to work with policy-makers to help children be more active and improve families’ access to locally grown produce.

One of CCFC’s greatest strengths is the breadth of support it garners. Its own board includes the county health director and schools superintendent, an Adel city councilman and an area bank vice president. CCFC’s relationship with the Adel News Tribune has also aided its efforts. Through the partnership, it published articles highlighting progress and showing other community members how to get and stay involved. According to Meyers, “Our partners and our people are our greatest assets, and the HKHC grant has helped us to strengthen and expand our collaborative.”

Key accomplishments:

  • Developed and maintained a collaborative of more than 40 partners to tackle the county’s health challenges by taking advantage of the local political will to make physical activity, healthy eating and obesity prevention a countywide priority.
  • Established a mobile farmers’ market that served six sites, including youth-based locations such as the Boys & Girls Club as a ways to bring healthy food to this rural community and improve families’ access to locally grown produce.
  • Installed gardens at the Cook County Primary and Middle schools, Boys & Girls Club and other community sites.
  • Established two shared-use agreements with local schools and city agencies that provided recreational facilities to more than 400 children in the county during the summer.

Designed and revitalized an abandoned community park located in front of the Boys & Girls Club and developed a new park in the outlying Town of Lenox. This unprecedented project in a town that has been historically separated from the rest of the county, not only created the sole park in the small town, but its development  also helped build new social bridges and new levels of collaboration between the leaders of the town and county.