If you’ve spoken with Kathy Wehrle, you know she is a woman on a mission. Armed with a basket of fresh produce and an extensive repertoire of nutritious recipes, she is working her way through our communities, planting seeds of sustainable access to fresh, wonderful food along the way.
Food insecurity is a condition in which a population has unavailable and uncertain access to food that supports a healthy lifestyle due to economic or social barriers. In Allen County, 54,110 residents are food insecure. An estimated 21 percent of children under 18 in Indiana are food insecure. Through HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living), Kathy and partners are confronting this challenge with community gardens, farmers markets, cooking demonstrations and hands-on cooking lessons, and special matching for all SNAP and WIC eligible customers.
As a woman who isn’t afraid to dig in and get her hands dirty, Kathy Wehrle is one of the tenacious, humanitarian, revitalizing People of Parkview.
Name: Kathy Wehrle
Title: Community Outreach Registered Dietitian Nutrition
How would you describe your career journey?
I started at Parkview in 1990. I was hired on as a nutrition educator in partial hospitalization program for Eating disorders at Lindenview (now Parkview Behavioral Health). I transitioned to in-patient coverage at a variety of locations (Lindenview and Parkview Hospital Randallia) then began a role in outpatient nutrition counseling. In the early 2000s, I assumed more community duties, including family weight management. programming, and community outreach program development (Kohl’s Healthy Kids and Parkview Live).
What does a typical day look like for you now?
I work on Community Health Improvement projects centering on obesity prevention, such as Access to Healthy Food (HEAL), early childhood family health programming (Simple Solutions), daycare health enhancement (Planting Healthy Seeds ECE), Parkview Center for Healthy Living skill classes, our healthy restaurant initiative and education material development, among other duties. Every day is different, which is fabulous. I might be working on expanding curriculum and planning programming, preparing for a talk or class, doing trainings, meeting with partners or clients etc.
What sort of difference do you hope to make in our community?
Big picture is to be part of moving the needle for health in our community. I hope I can help empower folks to take charge of their health by taking small steps. I want to help lift up communities that may not have the same resources as others, so they can forge ahead to live healthy long lives.
What is your favorite part of your day-to-day routine, and why?
Waking up to my Columbian brew, taking a walk and being grateful for the abundant life we have here in the U.S. The fact that I love to come to work helps!
What inspires you to do what you do?
Lifestyle medicine is so much on the forefront; The idea that how you take care of that amazing body of yours makes all the difference in how you feel day-to-day, how vibrant your health is and how long you live. Folks have been waking up to that realization, but they need a road map on how to get there. That’s where all the good work we do in community health improvement comes in!
What are the greatest rewards of your job?
The idea that I have helped someone in some small way. Maybe they started cooking with their husband, or they lost weight or improved their cholesterol. Maybe their child became more fit and healthy. All these things make my heart explode with joy! I have people come up to me at the grocery or at local events and tell me the changes they are making and how it affects how they feel – it is fabulous!
What’s something you hope to accomplish in your career?
I have a great love for seeing the local food movement advance; for us to provide fresh local food to our patients and patrons of our café’s, to support the farmers who work the land to produce such amazing life-sustaining foods, to be part of starting a local Food Council/Hub and a Parkview farm. I want to see schools and daycares use local produce and have gardens. I also want to help parents of young families get a solid foothold for health habits, because it is substantially easier to prevent obesity in the first place, rather than treat it downwind.
We’ve been hearing the term “food desert” quite a bit. What is that?
A food desert is a low-income census tract where a substantial number of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store (they live more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas and as more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store in rural areas).
What is the biggest hurdle in preventing people from eating fresh food and how can they address it?
I would say food affordability and access. Fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats and poultry can cost more and may not be obtained as easily in some areas.. Some folks don’t know the deep connection between what they eat and their health and if they do, they may lack cooking skills to make the food taste great. It takes time to teach folks ways to cook healthy inexpensive meals. It takes planning and time investment some don’t want to make. In this fast food, over processed world, we’ve made unhealthy food so inexpensive and highly palatable that it’s almost addicting. But it’s killing us.
What are some small changes people can make to improve their diet?
Skip the sugary drinks and foods. Start eating a natural fiber-filled breakfast, 2 cups of leafy greens a day and learn what whole foods are and get cooking! Bombard your diet with more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, beans, nuts, seeds healthy oil, etc.
If someone wanted to start a community garden, how would they go about that?
There are a ton of resources on how to start community resources online, but first you could “go local” and contact your local extension agent (ours is Ricky Kemery) so they can tell you where community gardens are thriving in our city. For example, check out the Burmese gardens near McCormick Apartments or see the garden plots behind St. Henry’s on South Anthony.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
That I have a twin sister (former teacher at Cedar Canyon Elementary) and my husband and I have 5 amazing kids.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
I love being with my family and being in nature! I’m always up for a good boat ride and love concerts and plays.
If you could tell people to read one book in their lifetime, which would it be?
The Good Book, of course, but for health, I would say “Disease-Proof” or ”Eating on the Wild Side”. For a classic tale I like “Les Misérables”.
What would we find on your bucket list and what do you plan to check off next?
A trip to Panama to visit friends and a great trek to Europe with the whole family. Next though, I’d like to devote land to growing berries for the underserved. I want to be an under-the-radar farmer!
How do you like to unwind?
I love to take walks, swim, listen to music, watch a good documentary on PBS and I love to go to Barr Street Market on Saturdays!