KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - A new grant will create a city-based community gardening program in Klamath County that teaches local youth how to grow and prepare healthy food.

The grant is part of a new research collaboration that brings together Oregon State University researchers, OSU Extension, and local county health departments. The Outreach Collaborative for a Healthy Oregon, or OCHO, links the research arm of the College of Health and Human Sciences with Extension agents and local county health departments to develop an innovative model of public health improvement, service and outreach.

Patty Case, associate professor with Extension Family and Community Health, and Jed Smith with Extension 4-H Youth Development are principal investigators on the project. Case said the goal is to get youth excited about growing and cooking healthy foods.

"When youth grow their own vegetables, they're more likely to eat them," Case said. "We'll have teen and adult leaders working alongside and modeling healthy behaviors for the younger club members. We've built this pilot project on the 4-H club model which emphasizes the four H's: Head, Heart, Hands and Health."

Klamath County ranks 32 out of the 33 counties in Oregon for health. A 2008 Klamath County assessment found that the primary contributors to poor community health included socioeconomics, education level, limited access to fruits and vegetables and a regional culture that doesn't place high value on healthy behaviors. The same report found that only 23 percent of eighth graders in Klamath consumed the minimum recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and that number dropped to 15 percent for juniors in high school.

Twenty five students ages 10 to 13 have joined the OSU-funded project along with four teen leaders and two adult leaders. Existing Rotary First Harvest Garden plots in downtown Klamath Falls and at OSU Experiment Station are being used. Over the next six months club members will learn how to grow and cook healthy food. They will exhibit their produce at county fair and sell the items at a farmer's market. The project will culminate with GIS mapping of potential community garden plots in city.

In addition to Case and Smith, other leaders on the collaborative project include Stacey Bennett with Extension Family and Community Health, Mary Arnold with Extension 4-H, Meghan Biggs with Henley FFA, Klamath Master Gardeners and Klamath County Health Department.

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Patty Case, 541-883-7131