Best Community Improvement Program Finalist: Transamerica
2013 Citizen Award Winner!
Transamerica: Planting the Seeds of a Healthy Lifestyle for Low-Income Children and Neighborhoods
Transamerica’s work promises better nutrition and a brighter future for the city’s low-income children. Their urban farm provides a pathway to greater health and habits.
A December 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed that childhood obesity disproportionately affects low-income children. Transamerica is working with Matthew 25, a local ministry that works to strengthen neighborhoods by empowering children, to address this problem in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Classified by the USDA as a “Food Desert,” Cedar Rapids’ urban neighborhoods have a great need for healthy and nutritious food. More than 50% of fifth graders in the community are overweight or obese. Because this inner city area is primarily low-income, families often cannot afford fresh food.
Additionally, this demographic lacks knowledge about the benefits of healthy foods and the importance of weight control and exercise. Even among those that understand the benefits, cheaper high-calorie options often look like a good alternative to more costly fruits and vegetables.
Transamerica is working with Matthew 25 to solve this problem by reaching young people early, helping them develop good nutritional habits, and inspiring self-sufficiency that will serve as a foundation for good health and personal success.
What Transamerica Has Accomplished
To address the need for healthy eating, better understanding of nutrition, and regular exercise, Transamerica has worked with Matthew 25 to help create Iowa’s first urban farm. Transamerica volunteers removed overgrown vegetation and built dozens of pergola, benches, and flower boxes to help ready the farm for the community. They also built a natural playground on the farm, helping children start down a path of regular outdoor exercise.
The combination of easy access to healthy food, engaging children with nature, and exercise has been a winning one. On a stretch of land that was damaged by flood in 2008, where more than 1,200 homes were destroyed, and where new development was very unlikely, there now exists an active and productive farm. This has revitalized the area and brought renewed hope to the community.
In one year, 3,500 pounds of food were produced. Community members pay for their weekly share of vegetables, which helps sustain the work of the farm. Members of the lower income neighborhoods are able to purchase discounted shares. Extra food produced on the farm is sold to local restaurants, helping to support the reduced cost shares, and also donated to food banks. Neighbors are also encouraged to supplement their income by building out small sections of the farm, working the land, and selling their crops to local restaurants.
The farm has become an educational resource for the area’s children. In the first year, there were more than 300 visitors from local schools, daycare centers, and other groups. Three gardens were built as learning hubs.
Why This Project Makes Sense
There is great value for Transamerica, both internally and externally, in engaging employees to come together and fulfill a need. The feedback from employees who participated in this volunteer work has been positive, and many said they were proud to work for a company that supports activities such as creating an urban farm.
Through this work, Transamerica employees are bringing hope and the knowledge of important life skills to a neighborhood ravaged by flooding just five years ago. Transamerica is showing that through creative, engaging projects, we can help make individuals and communities stronger.