Carolyn Richey

Carolyn Richey, a nurse supervisor with the Allen County Health Department, poses for a portrait Wednesday at the department in Scottsville.

An Allen County woman is being recognized for her efforts to instill healthy eating habits in local children.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has named Carolyn Richey, a nurse supervisor at the Allen County Health Department, a Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion.

For several years, Richey has been orchestrating and expanding a program that introduces local children to vegetables.

Richey said the program was motivated by high rates of interrelated health issues such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“We saw that we had numbers that were disturbing to us,” she said.

Richey and some of her colleagues began to wonder if there was a way to weave healthier habits into the fabric of the community.

“We saw that all of them affected each other and we thought, ‘How do we change this long term?’ ” she said.

Richey then launched a veggie tasting program for children in the Allen County School District, which introduced many of them to vegetables they were unfamiliar with before, such as kale, brussels sprouts, beets, rutabaga and kohlrabi.

The program, she said, has been more popular with kids than she initially expected, adding that she hopes it encourages children to eat healthier throughout their lives, thereby improving public health in the county over time.

“We just hope that in the long run, this will be a step toward better health for our community,” she said.

Richey’s efforts have expanded beyond the veggie tasting program in the last five years. She also organized the Community Health Action Team, which works to address local food access issues and includes people associated with the health department, county schools, The CORE of Scottsville and the Allen County Cooperative Extension Service.

She also expanded the veggie tasting program to include a high school field trip to Need More Acres Farm in Scottsville, which provides the program with its produce.

Richey said she wants to expand the program further, expressing interest in starting a community garden, though she isn’t sure that there would be enough local support to establish one.

“I’ve always wanted to have a community garden project, but is that something the community wants? I don’t know,” she said.

Michelle Howell, who co-owns Need More Acres Farm with her husband, nominated Richey for the recognition.

Via email, Howell said Need More Acres is a member of the Community Health Action Team and has been involved with Richey’s efforts since 2014.

“To date, and through Carolyn’s leadership, over 30,000 servings of locally grown fruits and vegetables have been offered at schools, community events, educational programs and on-farm tours,” she said.

Howell said she was happy to nominate Richey for all the work she’s done with expanding access to fresh produce in the county.

“Her goal isn’t recognition, praise or success and she knows that much of her investment in her community might not be recognized until after she’s gone,” she said. “That’s the kind of commitment our societies survived on for most of time and what we need more of to thrive once again.”

Bonnie J. Hackbarth, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s vice president of external affairs, said this is the second year the organization has been recognized people and groups as Healthy Kentucky Policy Champions.

“We have such bad health in Kentucky, so we’re trying to call out people and organizations that are going above and beyond to change that,” she said.

According to a release from the foundation, CEO Ben Chandler presented Richey with the award July 24 at Need More Acres.

Hackbarth said Richey is now eligible for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion of the Year award, which includes a $5,000 grant to a Kentucky nonprofit of the winner’s choice.

According to the release, the winner of the award will be announced Sept. 24 at the Foundations Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum in Lexington.

Hackbarth said Richey stands out because of her dedication to introducing healthy habits to children at a young age.

“She’s creating habits and tastes that these kids will take into adulthood,” Hackbarth said.

The foundation considers Richey’s efforts to have the potential to change the picture of public health in Allen County over time.

“We feel really strongly that this is one person showing how small changes can expose people to new habits that can change their health,” she said.

– Follow Daily News reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.

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General assignment reporter focusing on features and regional coverage.

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