Gina SimsBy Gina Sims, Health Education Specialist

It was the trees that first brought me to Chico, when I was 17 years old. I fell in love with the tree-lined streets that reminded me of my hometown of Chicago. I spent my undergrad years biking and swimming in beautiful Bidwell Park, studying at the Meriam library and downtown coffee shops, and enjoying the local music and art scene with friends.

As I near 40, Chico is so much more than just a college town to me. This is my home.  The strong sense of community here nourishes me. Chico is the place where I met my husband, gave birth to my children, and found my career as a health educator. My strong network of friends—along with the local farmers, artists, and community members—inspires me. Someone asked me recently if I’d ever leave Chico, and all I could say in response was “Why would I?”

As a health education specialist at CSU, Chico’s Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP, pronounced “snap”), I am able to positively impact the health of many Chicoans.  CNAP works in collaboration with over 150 school and community partners to meet the health and nutrition needs of over 100,000 residents in rural Northern California. 

CNAP provides pre-professional practice, service learning, and research opportunities for more than 120 undergraduate and graduate students each year. Our students and staff come from a variety of academic departments, including nutrition and food science, kinesiology, social work, health and community services, sociology, education, communications, and business, just to name a few. CNAP helps needy families access healthy foods, and we promote the consumption of whole foods, daily physical activity, and garden-based learning to reduce hunger and obesity rates.

CNAP staff and students engage in a plethora of service-learning activities throughout the year.“CNAPers” can be seen in the North State leading cooking lessons, teaching children how to grow fruits and vegetables, helping families access nutrition assistance programs, conducting research to evaluate program effectiveness, engaging people of all ages in physical activity, assisting with playground renovations, preparing local foods for tastings, and connecting with local organizations and media outlets. These Chico State students are empowered by giving back to their college town in a meaningful way, and the children they work with adore them and are inspired to make healthier choices.

One of CNAP’s core programs is Harvest of the Month (HOTM). Each month, we provide over 30,000 fruit or vegetable samples from local farms to children and their families. We produce Farmer of the Month newsletters and videos to showcase the farming history and activities on each farm.

kids playingYoung kids now see the growers at our farmers’ markets as rock stars. They’ve seen them on TV. They speak up and ask their families to take them to the market to find “the carrot man,” and I’ve even seen them ask farmers for autographs. That, to me, speaks volumes about the effectiveness of our programs.

We also have research results to show we are making a difference. In fact, evaluation of CNAP’s HOTM program found that students participating in the program are almost three times more likely to select fruits and vegetables every day from school salad bars.

I am proud to call Chico my home. Though I wasn’t born here, a big part of me knows that I have grown up here. I have chosen to raise my family here, and I have built a successful career working to teach children how to grow, harvest, cook, and enjoy healthful food. I work closely with our dynamic Chico State faculty and students, dedicated farmers, engaged community members, and families to celebrate the bounty of agriculture that surrounds us and take pride in feeding our community’s children well.