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Planting a Healthy Future

Melissa Peirson
November 30, 2020

Responding to food accessibility issues in Lincoln Park.

To help provide the community with healthy fruit they planted plums, pears, apples, and cherries in September 2020 in Harrison Park.

One of Melissa Peirson’s favorite activities as an intern at the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative (LPCFC) was planting an orchard. She and her colleagues planted 12 fruit trees for public use.

Lincoln Park is classified as a food desert because there are no grocery stores nearby. Peirson explained, “There used to be a marketplace in Lincoln Park, but it closed.” To help provide the community with healthy fruit, they planted plums, pears, apples, and cherries in September 2020 in Harrison Park. The hope is that by summer 2021 there will be some fruit available to the community.

Canvassing to Learn About Needs

The mission of LPCFC is to support children and families by connecting them to resources and opportunities, embracing cultures, and building community and well-being through strong and equitable leadership. They are especially concerned about health.

The LPCFC hired Peirson, a UMD public health major, to work on a special canvassing project. It’s called the Health POWER and is a funding initiative by The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield to help establish community-led change and solutions. The initiative focused on physical activity, healthy eating, and tobacco use.

Due to the pandemic, Pierson began her internship by working virtually and many of her hours were completed online through Zoom for meetings and training. She helped train individuals of the community to host interviews for the canvassing event. A big part of the project was to involve the community directly. She did conduct a few interviews, but most interviews were conducted by community members who found part-time jobs through Health POWER funding.

The canvassing event about community needs received responses from about 170 people, and many people expressed a lack of access to healthy foods. Peirson explained, “Access to healthy foods was definitely the one [issue] that was most prominent in the interviews. The next step for LPCFC and the Health POWER initiative is to host community organizing training and create a community coalition to address the needs that were found in the surveys.”

Serving the Needs of the Community

LPCFC ’s programs include childcare, supervised visitation, neighborhood sustainability, and the Big Red Book Shelf. In fall 2020, they converted and repainted rooms for childcare. That’s when Pierson was able to trade her forms and paperwork for a paintbrush. “It was nice to get out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Peirson described why her work is so rewarding. “Everyone brings in a whole different outlook on life, and it’s really great to hear [their perspective].” Part of her work includes making posters, social media management, gardening, supervising volunteers, and training others on how to administer surveys via Zoom.

“I don’t live over here.” Peirson said on a zoom interview from her office in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Duluth. “Many times I’m around college-educated individuals with similar backgrounds as me. The work at LPCFC and this opportunity gets me out of my comfort zone.” She said she welcomes the new perspectives. She’s gained insight from executive director of the nonprofit, Jodi Broadwell, who lives in the area and has a personal relationship with the community. Peirson has learned about many struggles within the community, and compares her privilege with others in the areas of health care, schooling, food access, housing, and access to employment.

Peirson has worked hard assisting the program through her internship. That work has paid off. It landed her a position as a Health POWER Program team member for 2020-2021.

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Banner photo above: Melissa Peirson

About the UMD Public Health Major

This story was written by UMD student Bailey Jacobson, who is double majoring in English and writing studies. Bailey works with Cheryl Reitan in University Marketing and Public Relations.