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story.lead_photo.caption Petra Baker, of St. Louis, reaches for a mint leaf in the planter outside of Missouri River Regional Library. The High Street Harvest boxes were one stop in the downtown tour for participants from around the state for the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities conference. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Jefferson City is the host city for this year's Healthy Schools Healthy Communities Convening.

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School and community wellness coordinators, teachers and community leaders from across Missouri are gathered in the Capital City for the annual event, which allows them to update each other on their work and share their successes.

Healthy Schools Healthy Communities is an initiative — from the Missouri Foundation for Health — aimed at addressing childhood obesity. The foundation was created in 2000 following Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri's conversion from nonprofit to for-profit status.

The foundation attempts to improve the health of Missourians through partnership, experience, knowledge and funding — and takes a multi-faceted approach to health issues, understanding programs, policy and collaboration all play roles in affecting health.

As scores of stakeholders listened Monday afternoon at Capitol Plaza Hotel, keynote speaker Kevin Kush — who spent 30 years as an educator and 21 as head football coach at Boys Town High School, in Nebraska — talked about the challenges of changing the fast-food culture in families.

"It would be pregame and I would see a family pull up with a sack of Burger King," Kush said. "And, they wouldn't drink water."

He ended up trying to get the boys to eat healthier foods, such as pasta before games. And, getting them to drink water was difficult too.

The boys would cramp up in the heat during summer practices.

"I had to get kids to begin buying into how to do things right in their lives," Kush said.

Kush encouraged the HSHC organizers to find leaders in the communities where they work. He said he always tried to find a spark plug — that person who works harder, faster and longer than everybody else. Their habits will rub off on others, he added.

"I know they're hard to find," Kush said. "Find out who they are and give them more responsibility."

Following Kush's discussion, those convened divided into three groups to witness how the Jefferson City area is implementing healthy activities and habits in the community.

About a third of attendees walked up the hill to the Capitol for a tour and to hear from policy experts about the challenges of creating change on local or statewide policy levels. They studied how changes in local communities can ripple to other parts of the state.

Another third climbed aboard two trolley buses and rode to Callaway Hills Elementary School, where for several years Jefferson City Public Schools has partnered with the community to help create healthier habits for its students.

HSHC helped pay for a fence built around a track outside the school this year. Nearby communities may use the track and other health products contained within the fence. Fitness stations — where people walking around the track may stop and use exercise equipment — are in the works. As is a pavilion, where some outdoor classes are expected to be held.

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The elementary school is the home of six raised garden beds, said Yolanda Graham, a master gardener and volunteer who advises students in the garden club.

The school received its first bed in 2011. Shortly afterward, a Boy Scout built another as a project. Since then, it has received four more, Graham said.

The "garden" now has a solar-powered greenhouse and a storage shed for equipment. A butterfly garden also sits nearby. Spinach was the first crop the students raised.

"We raised about 100 tomato plants (this year)," Graham said.

Produce raised in the gardens is served at the school fresh, or cut up and frozen for use later on. Early this year, garden produce was used to supplement a meal the school's cooking club prepared as a fundraiser.

With the first frost of the season expected soon, Monday became "destruction day" for the elementary students, Graham said. After school, they pulled all the bean, tomato and pepper plants and built tents over lettuce and spinach. Lettuce and spinach may continue growing until mid-December, Graham said.

Another third of the conference attendees marched up the hill from the hotel to High Street, where Ashley Varner, the healthy communities coordinator at Capital Region Medical Center, demonstrated the bike share program.

She explained the program Jefferson City entered into is called Spin. Spin uses a "dockless" model of bike, meaning it can be left or picked up anywhere and doesn't have to be returned to a certain point. The bikes are available all over the city and people only need to download an app to their smartphone, enter payment information and get a code to unlock and use a bike.

The company providing the bikes accepts all the risk and must carry $3 million in liability insurance, she told about 40 people huddled on High Street.

Also, it's possible scooter rentals will be available in Jefferson City soon.

Moving along, the group took a long look at four three-tier planter boxes next to the sidewalk outside the library near the corner of Adams and High streets. The project — a collaboration between HSHC, Missouri River Regional Library and Root Cellar — is intended to encourage home cooking and healthier eating.

Varner encouraged the attendees to pick the chives, mint, parsley or rosemary and give it a sniff.

"This lets people try herbs that they haven't had before," said Natalie Newville, MRRL marketing manager. "They also fill an educational component (of the library)."

Newville explained the planters have booklets on them that allow curious people to learn about the herbs, how to grow them, how to pick them and how to use them. The booklets include suggested recipes.

Claudia Cook, the library's executive director, said staff are thinking about adding pages to the weatherproof booklets, suggesting library customers head inside and check out other recipes in its many cookbooks.

Deidre Griffith, of St. Louis, is the program director for HSHC. As she walked down High Street, she said the program is always looking at activities that positively affect communities. The Walking School Bus is a program that has been successful statewide, she said.

But, it requires a massive volunteer base to accomplish, Griffith said.

"The coach (Kush) had a lot of great tips," she said, adding that not only do you have to inspire people, you have to thank them when they are done. "They have to want to do it."

The conference continues today.

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