Towards a Healthier Lake County: The Blue Zones Project

By noon, the hula hoop competition has ended, and they’re moving on to the raffle. Kids scale up a climbing wall, while others spend their time in the bouncy house. Vendors, community organizations, and food booths circle the area while live music pours from the stage. Austin Park in Clearlake’s filled with people, nearly bursting at the seams. “I think this is the best event we’ve ever had,” Clearlake resident Katie Sheridan says. Is it the fourth of July? Nope. It’s the first annual Hope4Health event sponsored by Adventist Health, and this year, they have combined with Blue Zones to help create a healthier, happier Lake County. 

If you haven’t heard about the Blue Zones project, check out their website. It’s about creating healthy eating choices and a healthy lifestyle and community. “Lake County is a community of haves and have-nots,” Nick Buettner, Blue Zones VP of Community Engagement, says. “And everyone needs wellbeing.” He looks around, taking in the event. “We have three hopes to make Blue Zones work in Lake County: First, how do align for measurable success? Second, how do we pull together partners throughout the community? And third, how can Blue Zones lift up the community and bring measurable outcomes?”  He pauses. It’s clear that the event is pulling together partners throughout the community—the park’s stuffed full of people. 

“The key,” Nick continues, “is this. How do we align with the community and break down silos, the things that keep us separate? We look at how everything comes together to make healthier choices for all. We’ve spent generations setting up communities to be unhealthy. It will take generations to make it healthy. That’s why we look at multiple indicators that have a lasting effect, such as childhood obesity, youth smoking, diabetes rates, and the walkability of the community. People get stuck on the quantity of life. It’s also about quality.”

And the event’s a showcase of the quality of life. One booth offers free smoothies, but you’ve got to pedal a bicycle to blend them. Just to the left of that booth, the Saw Shop and Wholly Bowl offer samples of their healthy eating options. Yoga mats are set up next to the bean bag toss, while goats and chickens hang out around the corner. It’s evident that the event is meant to share more than just diet tips. 

Jen and Brian from Wholly Bowl

Jamey Gill, Executive Director of the Blue Zones Project in Lake County, stands to the left of the stage, answering multiple questions and directing multiple people simultaneously. Right now, she’s talking to the Lower Lake High School choir director, getting them ready to head up on stage next. “They made me stage mom,” she smiles. According to Jamey, the event’s a success because “we have an outpouring of support from our community. We have over thirty vendors, eighty community volunteers, and well over 3,000 people attending the event to experience what it means to live a Blue Zones life.” A volunteer asks her a quick question before heading off to assist at another booth. Jamey continues. “We’re grateful to our sponsor, Adventist Health, and look forward to the next phase of our Blue Zones Project Lake County – where we implement our Blueprint (strategic plan) and start making small changes in the places we live, work, and play in order to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone in our county.”

That’s the next step: moving the Blue Zones further into the community. But now, the event’s in full swing, and the  Lower Lake High School choir has started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” People pause their games for a moment and turn to listen before heading on to chat with friends, try out some free food, or play a game. The event’s in full swing, and there’s still plenty of time to see everything. 

David Wakefield

David and Trudy Wakefield started The Bloom in 2018 to showcase the best parts of Lake County and to provide a local outlet for community events, arts, music, and writing.

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