Perhaps the strongest testament to the impact Wayne State’s Community Health Pipeline has on Detroit can be found in the city’s high schools. Open to all students in grades nine through 12, the Community Health Pipeline reaches more than 4,500 youths in seven high schools across the city each year, schooling them on farming and healthy eating in an effort to fortify the local food landscape.
“We’re trying to build health leaders who will take on health disparities,” said Noel Kulik, Ph.D., CHES, director of the Community Health Pipeline, which will sponsor the youth-led Detroit Food Summit in the Wayne State Student Center Ballroom on Oct. 19. “The Pipeline emphasizes the importance of working in your own neighborhood.”
With the October summit looming — the Pipeline has invited more than 400 Detroit high school students to campus for a daylong conference filled with lectures from peers and nutrition-industry professionals — organizers are ardently hailing the growing influence the program is having in the city as it moves into its third year.
Alongside students from the city-run Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program, Community Health Pipeline participants receive training through apprenticeships and gain real-world nutrition education by working with one of 19 groups that partner with the Pipeline. Partner organizations provide training in farm setup, food handling, community outreach and more.
“Students who have participated in the Community Health Pipeline project have significantly increased their nutrition knowledge and fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Kulik, who is an assistant professor in the WSU College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, Health and Sport Studies.
The Pipeline is divided into five pillars, each one building on the previous. Together these pillars generate youth who are socially conscious, ready for college and have leadership skills. While every student may not complete the breadth of the program, the Pipeline aims to educate each one about the nutritional opportunities available to them.
The first pillar focuses on nutrition education, offering lessons on proper diet and activities such as food tastings of products from locally grown farms. Pillar two is centered on experience as students get outside the classroom to tour farmers markets and local farms. Pillar three promotes hands-on experience through apprenticeships. Pillar four focuses on leadership, driving students to develop health programming and skills related to farm entrepreneurship. And pillar five incorporates college readiness: Students learn more about an academic path in community health as well as career opportunities, finding out how a degree and training in nutrition and food can impact food access in their community.
“Over 200 youth have been placed in 22 local food-related organizations for paid summer apprenticeships,” said Kulik. “Almost 100 youth have participated in our college and career readiness experience from 2017 to 2018.”
Completion of the apprenticeship allows students the opportunity to take advantage of leadership opportunities, like working for Wayne State’s Farmers Market. This past summer, twin sisters Tranise and Tranisea Chancellor did exactly that.
“Working with the Farmers Market was educational,” said Tranisea. “It gave me a chance to work on my teamwork and communication skills, but what I liked most was passing out samples. I got to meet people and tell them facts about what they were eating.”
Now those efforts will continue with the Detroit Food Summit.
Said Kulik, “We are thrilled with our partnerships and that the program continues to get youth, families, organizations, and communities engaged and invested in food systems work.”
The Community Health Pipeline is supported by a grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund. The Michigan Health Endowment Fund works to improve the health and wellness of Michigan residents and reduce the cost of healthcare, with a special focus on children and seniors. More information about the Health Fund can be found at mihealthfund.org/.