Cuba, New Mexico

2014

Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partnership in Cuba addressed the Navajo community’s interest in greater self-determination and economic development as it adjusted its approach to developing a mobile farmers’ market for the tri-chapter communities.

For more information, read the full story.


July 2014

In Cuba, NM, the natural environment offers desert, forests, mountains and, often, spectacular sunsets. Its built environment presents quite a different landscape, as residents in the northwest New Mexico community can attest. About 8,800 people live within a 35-mile radius of the village of Cuba. Many have limited access to fresh produce and recreational facilities, a problem exacerbated by their lack of dependable transportation. Too few roads have safe walkways or sidewalks, and there is no traffic light or stop sign on the heavily traveled Highway 550 as it cuts through the village center.

For residents, more than two-thirds of whom are Hispanic or American Indian and many of whom struggle with unemployment or low incomes, the health impact of these factors is considerable. Ultimately, many adults as well as children deal with obesity and related chronic diseases. At the area’s only clinic for primary care, the diabetes caseload typically runs 500+ patients.

In collaboration with residents, state and local groups and elected officials, the University of New Mexico Prevention Research Center has worked to implement policy and environmental changes that have made the Cuba area a healthier place. With a focus on youth, the partnership has sought to involve them. “Young people have been engaged in many of our projects. It helps us to learn about their ideas and concerns, and it helps them to understand how they can help change their communities,” says Patty Keane, Project Director for Healthy Kids, Healthy Cuba.

The Healthy Kids, Health Cuba partnership successfully:

  • Established a thriving Cuba Farmers’ Market with capacity to accept WIC, SNAP and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition benefits.
  • Established technical assistance to area growers to increase production and number of market vendors.
  • Obtained funding to provide cooking demonstrations at the market by Cuba School’s Culinary Arts Program students.
  • Expanded the Cuba Community Garden and its involvement of youth, who received recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama.
  • Obtained Village approval for a community-driven renovation plan for St. Francis of Assisi Park and established a one-mile perimeter trail that also creates a safer route to school for children.
  • Built sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly improvements along the stretch of US Highway 550 that serves as Cuba’s four-lane “Main Street,” and prioritized additional projects for future funding.
  • Provided technical assistance for backyard gardening and farming efforts in outlying American Indian communities that also have the potential to support the growth of a regional mobile vending initiative.
  • Advanced healthy vending at the Sandoval County Fair, including a pricing incentive for water consumption.

As much as the rugged terrain in this area can be an obstacle, it also can be seen as an important strategic asset. Since 2006, the Step Into Cuba Alliance of individuals and organizations has led an effort to expand trails and other outdoor recreational resources in or close to town, including joint use of trails with schools, camping facilities on the nearby fairgrounds, and a direct connection to the Continental Divide Trail that can serve both residents and the town’s economic future.

The combined effect of all these efforts has begun shifting the culture in Cuba. “We’re seeing more engagement from traditional families, from the Village Council, from youth, and from Navajo families in outlying areas,” says Dr. Richard Kozoll, a longstanding resident and primary care physician for the community. “It’s because now it looks like it’s going to stick. Over time, we’ve established that reliability and trust that’s so important.”