Tyler Weig, executive director of the South Suburban YMCA, is creating health opportunities for not just Y members, but for the surrounding community. In May, the South Suburban YMCA began making changes to create an outdoor learning space by planting more than 25 fruit trees (apple, peach, pear, serviceberry, and cherry), building a large pergola, and creating several raised bed gardens with grapes, rhubarb, and strawberries.
“In our learning space, we want people to meet, eat and learn. All the fruit eventually produced on the trees will be free to the public and we hope that the fruit and any produce from the raised garden beds will be used to educate people about healthy eating, to show them that it doesn’t have to be hard to have access to it,” Weig said.
Currently, Iowa ranks 49th out of 50 states in fruit and vegetable consumption based on the Gallup Healthways Well-being Index. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average adult should be consuming two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables daily. This amount of consumption can be stressful for people and communities due to their low access to fresh produce and the cost that it brings.
“There are various factors that prevent people from being healthy, including knowledge and access, so we wanted to help with that. It’s easy to tell someone to eat more fruits and vegetables, but they have to be able to get those,” Weig said. “We’d just been mowing this area and after some brainstorming, attending meetings and researching the possibilities, this is what we came up with.”
In addition to increasing access to healthy foods, the YMCA is also working to increase physical activity options through the addition of 5 community routes that start and end on the sidewalk right in front of the South Suburban Y at 401 East Army Post Road in Des Moines. Community members can follow the route’s colored arrows and to easily enjoy the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle.
Walking is one of the best ways to stay healthy and connect with people and places. In addition to the undeniable physical benefits, walking has social and emotional health benefits as well. Walking cultivates community. The more people walk, the more they know about where they live, and the people they meet and share their neighborhood with. This is why walkable communities are vibrant communities. More people outside walking leads to friendlier and livelier streets, reduces social isolation and creates safer neighborhoods.
This South Suburban YMCA’s outdoor living project was entirely funded by the YMCA’s annual Christmas tree sales, grants, and donations from the community.
**Special thanks to Tyler Weig and the South Suburban YMCA for providing pictures and article content.