Ikigai is a term that older Okinawans use to articulate their reasons for waking up in the morning. A moai is a secure social network that provides a safety net and lends financial and emotional support in times of need. According to Dan Buettner in “The Blue Zones” these two terms are the strategies employed by some of the communities where people live the longest. Buettner identifies Ikigai and moai as important factors that contribute to the long lives of the Okinawans. Therefore, having attended a presentation by Buettner, I believe both of these factors are essential tools for community engagement and can be incorporated in Alamance County.
In 2015, 1 in 4 households had incomes 130 percent below the poverty line. Of those Americans with incomes below the poverty line, 25 percent were food insecure. In addition, seniors lived alone in almost half of the low-income food-insecure households (SNAP Helps Millions of Low-Income Seniors, 2017). “Fewer than one-third of senior citizens in the United States eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which are vital to preventing and treating health problems” (Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, 2016). With 1.2 million food insecure senior citizens living alone and unable to eat healthy nutritious foods, it appears obvious that there is a problem. If seniors are unable to afford proper food, it seems impossible for them to have a sense of purpose, or a Ikigai. It is also obvious that a supportive community, or a moai, was not available to act as a safety net among these seniors. Therefore, the North Park Farmers’ Market initiated The Senior Discount Program.
This program addresses food insecurity and a lack of a community by incentivizing seniors to buy fresh produce at the North Park Farmers’ Market. Seniors receive three tokens for every visit to the market. The goal of the program is to increase seniors’ access to local foods, and to also aid in the development and expansion of the North Park Farmers’ Market.
The Senior Discount Program creates the necessary structure required to benefit both farmers and seniors. The program creates a feeling of purpose and a close-knit community in Alamance county. When seniors purchase from the market it can create a sense of purpose because of the financial support they provide to the farmers’. A sense of community is also fostered from the interaction between seniors and farmers. Ultimately, shopping at market forms an environment that provides healthy quality foods and a positive shopping experience.
During our second season, we’ve observed a multiple outcome stemming from the services our Senior Discount Program provided. First, seniors learned a story behind the food they purchased. Second, relationships were formed between the farmers and the seniors. As relationships developed, the farmers became genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of the seniors in the program. To the extent at which if a senior who shops regularly at the market misses a day, we would inquire about their safety and wellbeing. Thus, community engagement was naturally formed and benefitted both seniors and farmers with an Ikigai and to belong to a moai. Written by Olise Obi
Photo credit: Deirdra McKelvy
Buettner, D. (2009). The blue zones: lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. (2016, October). Retrieved November 02, 2017, from
SNAP Helps Millions of Low-Income Seniors. (2017, October 10). Retrieved November 02,
2017, from https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-helps-millions-of-low-income-seniors
Healthy Alamance and Engage Alamance held a candidate forum on October 18th in Graham, NC to share with the community how vested candidates are in supporting the built environment. Built Environment refers to man-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity. It has been defined as “the humanitarian-made space in which people live, work, and play.”
Healthy Alamance and Impact Alamance co-facilitate both Alamance Wellness Collaborative and Alamance Food Collaborative, focusing on increasing access to opportunities for physical activity and to fresh food.
- We know that the built environment plays a key role in the health of Alamance County and its residents. While individual behaviors are still important in determining health outcomes, we know that policies that impact the whole county also play a key role. For example, allocating funds to certain infrastructure projects, just such as sidewalks or new or existing park enhancements, or healthy food options nearby can provide access – or not – to make healthy behaviors easier. There are other examples we could make about location of schools, access to jobs, healthcare, etc. With this as context for our discussion today, how would you rate the health of the county as compared to similar counties? And where improvement is needed, what do you think are the most promising strategies that can address those issues?
- In your opinion, what are some “recent wins” you think have a lot of potential for improving health in the county?
- We know that budgets and other government resources are often tight and stretched. Knowing you want to make a better Alamance County, what are some strategies you could envision employing for how to best allocate resources to the areas for improvement you mentioned earlier?
- In the public health world, we talk a lot about alleviating health disparities. This is based on knowing that people in low-income communities or people of color often have poorer outcomes and are at higher risks for poorer outcomes than their counterparts. And again, we know that individual behaviors are certainly a part of it, but easy access to opportunities in one’s own neighborhood also plays a big role in people’s behaviors. Prioritizing capital improvement projects – whether that’s new lighting in neighborhoods, or updates and enhancements to existing parks or trails, or a new development – are often intentionally planned and placed based on where they’ll have the greatest impacts. What do you think are the best ways to address those health disparities, and what do you see as the most effective role of the Council to play to address them?
- When you envision a “healthy community,” what is a city or county that comes to mind? What about that place do you think works well to make it that way, and of those things that make it work, what do you think could be replicated in Alamance County?
- We know that the phrase “if you build it, they will come,” sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. And that it’s a bit of the chicken and the egg when it comes to things like bike lanes, sidewalks, and even some healthy food stores. In other words, you may hear “people don’t bike on that road, so why put in bike lanes?” Well, because maybe it’s currently too dangerous. When you think about the culture of Alamance County, what are ways you think are most effective to identifying what projects will work and what won’t?
- If we broaden our definition of “health” to include economic development, many of us have heard that companies often locate in places where there is a healthy workforce. Having a healthy workforce lowers a company’s healthcare costs and minimizes absenteeism, and can help with a business’s bottom line overall. What strategies, related to the built environment, do you think could help entice businesses into Alamance County and support a healthy workforce?
- What role will you play in supporting fresh nutritious foods in our county such as Farmer’s markets and community gardens?
- Would you review the density of fast food restaurant venues currently in the county before approving any new venues like this?
Candidate Responses (posted in order received)
- If I was using an educational scale, I would give Alamance County a D, if not an F. We are ranked in the bottom half of all North Carolina counties according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. Adult obesity is at 35%, adult smoking is at 19%, low birth rate is at 10%, physical inactivity is at 25% and 26% of our children are living in poverty. The #1 thing we can do to improve these outcomes in the long run is to invest in education. Research has shown time and time again that educational attainment is correlated with improved health outcomes. Our schools need to ensure that children are given healthy foods, ample recess time, health education, and physical education. We need to consider improving community walkability and hold our town and county planners and officials responsible for ensuring that new roads and developments are built in a manner in which health is a priority. We need to provide more ways for people of all ages to get involved in their schools, community, and churches to ensure positive mental and social health outcomes. We need to provide more free or low-cost community-based programs in the areas of physical activity and health promotion (nutrition, mindfulness, safety, etc.)
- A huge win was the partnership between Impact Alamance and ABSS to open school playgrounds to the community. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Newlin Elementary School playground build as part of the announcement to open the playgrounds to the communities. This creates additional green space and free physical activity facilities for many communities throughout Alamance County. Communities are also investing in parks and sidewalks. Graham opened the Graham Regional Park and Elon installed sidewalks along Williamson. Impact Alamance is funding a teen pregnancy prevention program for the health department and helped launch a group called Alamance Achieves that will focus on improving outcomes for children, including their health.
- I believe that our towns, county and state need to aggressively seek grant funding from both private and public entities. I’m also a supporter of a school bonds being on the ballot in a coming election that focuses on a strategic plan to support Alamance County’s growth, need for improved school facilities, improved teacher pay to attract the best talent and provide services for today’s children. I believe that most of Alamance County would support paying for improved schools to provide an innumerable amount of benefits to our residents and our future.
- Many main roads in our county are not what I would consider safe to walk on or ride a bicycle. It would be incredible to see our various Recreation & Parks departments team up to develop an inter-town greenway system that connects all of the areas of Alamance County with a safe alternative to walking or cycling on the streets to get the where people need to go. Too often, each of our towns are competing for resources. This would be a way to collaborate for a cause that serves all of Alamance County and each municipality as well. Imagine if you could safely ride your bike from Springwood Park to Beth Schmidt Park to Burlington City Park to Bill Cocke Park to Graham Regional Park to Lake Michael Park. This greenway system would be another connection between communities that not only provides access but also serves as a green and healthy living initiative. We also need to find ways to invest in our school infrastructure. Our schools in Alamance County are out-of-date. As we look to build new facilities in the future, I would like to collaborate with key stakeholders in building facilities that focus on the WELL Building Standard to ensure that our schools are built with clean air, healthy lighting, ample physical activity space, and cafeterias that serve healthy foods above and beyond the national nutrition standards. We all know that health disparities don’t start in adulthood. By giving our children the education they deserve in facilities that promote health and wellbeing, we can seek to overcome many of the disparities that currently exist. Our schools should also serve a community education centers to provide parents and families educational opportunities in the areas of health and wellbeing.
- This year, I went to Minnesota for work. This was my first time visiting. As a wellness professional, I was excited because the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are continuously at the top of the healthiest cities lists and I was interested to learn why. Both St. Paul and Minneapolis are extremely walkable cities. This was quite surprising to me as I wondered how anyone even thought about going outdoors during their cold season. That was when I was introduced to the Skyway, a series of climate-controlled walkways connecting the second floor of all of downtown so that no one ever has to walk outside during the cold season or rainy days. This concept is a health educator’s dream. Minneapolis took a barrier to social connectedness and physical activity and creatively came up and implemented a solution. The cities have invested greatly in green space, greenways, walkability and implemented a smoking ban in public spaces. As you walk around either Minneapolis or St. Paul, you get a feeling as if you are walking through a park although you are in an urban environment. I would like to see Alamance County focus more planning on green space. It seems that we are so focused on development and increasing the population that we lose focus of wellbeing. We need to ensure that residents are connected, healthy and have the ability to thrive.
- I’m sure that our health department is continuously engaging our communities in needs assessments. Our municipalities need to study that data and engage in the process to determine what makes the most sense for our residents. If the health department or other groups aren’t assessing, then we should start doing so. Data can inform us as to where our dollars will be best spent rather than simply guessing and hoping for the best.
- At the end of the day, the best way to entice businesses to come to Alamance County would be through a tax credit of some sort. Large employers typically have the means of providing their employees with ample health and wellness benefits that can often improve the wellbeing of their workforce. However, smaller employers may not have that luxury. I’m not entirely sure that the built environment itself is going to entice an employer. However, if our built environment is designed with wellbeing in mind, we can seek to provide employers with a healthier workforce. We also need to have ample resources available for the employer and their employees such as public transit, mental health care, access to top-notch medical care and successful schools. Matter of fact, I would guess that improving our schools alone would greatly improve our efforts to bring businesses to Alamance County.
- As a health and wellness professional, my mind is always on improving access to health foods. I would be a huge proponent of community gardens and farmer’s markets. Elon Community Church has a weekly farmer’s market in downtown Elon on Thursdays. Not only does this serve as a great point of access to locally grown, healthy foods, it provides a means in which our community can come together. I would love to see a community garden supported in a joint effort with Elon University, the Town of Elon, our retirement communities and possibly Elon Elementary that teaches our community members and children how to grow their own food and provide free food to those in need. The garden could serve as an excellent educational opportunity as well.
- Mebane is a uniquely special place. We shine when compared to the rest of Alamance County. Comparatively, I would say Alamance County has room to improve. As for the City of Mebane, our historic small-town nature and collection of neighborhoods promotes the tradition of physical activity, sports, and outdoor play. We have in Mebane a safe neighborhood community where kids play basketball, toss a football, skate, and horse around outside. We have a strong adult and youth community of runners & joggers, non-profits like Mebane on the Move, many organized youth sports programs. We have high school swim teams supported by private-public partnerships between a local business and high school and a substantial private-sector fitness and health industry made up of mostly small business entrepreneurs.
There are several areas where Mebane can improvement going forward. Culture of playing outside – I do not want our City to lose those small-town characteristics to exponential growth that have made kids-playing-outside a defining attribute of Mebane. Increases in traffic and speeders have already made it less safe for kids to play outside in their neighborhoods. Increased traffic and lack of adequate sidewalks and crosswalks has made it less safe for children to access our parks facilities, visit friends, walk to school, or ride their bikes to practice. We also have a significant need for better street lighting.Better public collaboration – When assessing community demand, the City needs better collaboration and broader input from the people we serve. Visiting neighborhoods across Mebane and listening to what the people want, there are clear areas of unmet needs including, too few basketball courts, a lack of designated running paths, and a desire to expand access to affordable, locally-sourced foods. There is also a public call for better access to Mebane parks for those with unique needs or disabilities. With better public collaboration and using universally accessible facilities guidelines, Mebane can work to promote greater quality of access to our parks, emerging walkways, and sports complexes.Better private-public partnerships – When supporting healthier communities, it is important that we take into consideration how needs are already being met by small businesses in Mebane. As community leaders, we must be cognizant of how subsidized government services impact local businesses that already provide access to facilities and physical activity – especially small businesses. In Mebane, we have quality martial arts, dance, gym, swimming, yoga, personal training, and other fitness-related activities. In many cases, these businesses work to accommodate broad family-wide access by providing summer camps, after-school care, and encouraging a culture of healthy families. I would like to see more active collaboration with many local small-businesses already providing community-related services. I believe it is our job to support a healthy community while making sure we do not undercut services already being provided by local businesses.2. Mebane’s new Center Street and Cates Farm Parks will offer expanded access to soccer fields, tennis courts, green spaces, and a disk golf facility. MYSA, Mebane on the Move, Mebane Runners’ Club, Mebane Rocks, and Mebane Farmers’ Market are a few of the many healthy Mebane traditions of getting outside, being active, and access to locally sourced foods.3. City leaders should always be responsible with tax dollars. One of the best strategies moving forward will be to expand upon partnerships like those between New Millennium Fitness and Eastern and Orange County High schools. This local small business has developed a productive working relationship with the local schools to provide access to swimming facilities for the promise of cleaning the pool once or twice a month. This model allows our community of students to benefit without public expenditure on expensively maintained olympic sized swimming pools. A cost effective path forward begins with building relationships and strong collaboration between City leaders and local business owners.Visiting neighborhoods across Mebane, there are great examples of neighbors bettering their own neighborhoods through common area improvement projects. I would like to see these types of organized efforts encouraged before spending tax dollars. Cost effectiveness, broader activities, and improved access to activities begins with strong collaboration with the community, service providers, and City leaders.4. We on the Council can work in a number of ways to address these important issues in our communities of color and less affluent neighborhoods. Including more individuals from these neighborhoods on the City Planning Board and supporting greater diversity on City Council is one of the best ways to insure these important issues are efficiently addressed.Industrial zoning is one of most significant ways these communities and neighborhoods are impacted by City decisions. It is important that we consider the impact on residents health when zoning for new industry or manufacturing near residential areas with lower property values.It is also important to be mindful of how new commercial development and residential zoning impact increased traffic through these neighborhoods. Across Mebane, traffic and speeders are common issues I hear. Within our communities of color and poorer neighborhoods, increased traffic can prove to be an additional challenge to promoting safe and easily walkable neighborhoods, access to City services and facilities, and ability for children to safely play outside.Access to facilities and services. We need to work to ensure all residents of Mebane have easy access to those facilities and services across the city. We as City leaders should work to make sure these neighborhoods are connected, safe, have sidewalks, and have proper access to parks and facilities.Drinking water and access to clean sewer services are some of the most basic services a city provides. It is important that the City be mindful of areas where leaking septic systems are impacting residents. In instances where high-impact industries have become vacant, it also important to address any remaining environmental impact the industry has left on communities access to clean neighborhoods and drinking water. At times, this means working with State and Federal agencies to clean up highly polluted areas.5. I envision Mebane as an excellent example of a “healthy community.” There is great physical activity, lots of interest in outdoor activities, and a culture of being out and about. We are a community of walkers, runners, athletes, and explorers. One of the biggests deals around town now is Mebane Rocks. Parents and kids paint rocks and hide them around town. Pictures are posted and families, kids, and others hunt them out. As with any community, there are areas where we can do better.6. The questions of “what works?” and “what doesn’t?” are ones dependent on strong community collaboration. Good answers to thesequestions come through the active process of City leaders being in the neighborhoods, listening to people, and building innovative partnerships with business leaders to robustly assess community need.The best strategy for identifying what projects work is broader collaboration with greater numbers in the community. We have to be good leaders and actively push for input from individuals and communities that typically don’t show up to council meetings or complete online surveys when assessing needs.7. A city that works to promote a healthy workforce likely will attract businesses and industries for the reasons you mentioned. I strongly support encouraging businesses to locate for Mebane for reasons like having a “built environment” that promotes active lifestyles. As to the matter of fiscal responsibility, a robust “built environment” promoting a healthy workforce should decrease the amount the City needs to allocate to recruiting new industries through cash incentive grants.Mebane has a lot going on right now. There are ways for us to do better. An important consideration moving forward is providing facilities and services that meet the needs of the broader community. For example, playgrounds are great facilities for small children. They are not as beneficial to promoting physical activity in teenagers and adults. Outside of organized sports, there are fewer options for physical activity for teenagers. There is even less variety in services and facilities for young adults, adults, our older neighbors, and those with disabilities and special needs.The key here is for City leaders to tap into the needs of those not engaging is available facilities and services. What I know from listening to people around town is access to services is a concern for many. For example, the demand for a place to play basketball are high and there are too few basketball courts available. In addition, inadequate street lighting, traffic, and facility closure times are obstacles for many. Another example I’ve heard, nature trails are good for most, but not so much for those with mobility issues.I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that City leaders have to be better collaborators with our broad and diverse community. For a built environment to be truly effective and a good public investment, it needs to meet the needs of all corners of Mebane. The best answers will come from better collaboration with the public, business professionals who specialize in physical activity services, and engaging those who have been left out of the discussion.8. Mebane has a farmer’s market. We also have 4 grocery stores providing access to fresh nutritious foods. I would like to see Mebane work to encourage a locally-sourced fresh food co-op to come to town.There is need for the addition of community gardens. I’d like to see greater public investment in community gardens.We should also work to preserve our quickly vanishing farms and agricultural lands surrounding Mebane.9. I welcome new food venues in Mebane. I look forward to a variety restaurants with healthy choices.