Upstate New York is known for its lakes and scenery, but community members want to be known for something else: good health. So, Finger Lakes communities and schools are trying for different shades of blue.
As in Blue Zones — communities that have been recognized as places of a different color because they're the overall healthiest places on Earth.
The original Blue Zones are in Olinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. After years of research, these five areas of the world were determined to be where people live the longest and healthiest lives.
Using the Blue Zones as a guide, some school districts here are simply showing their staff members the joys and benefits of healthy and holistic living, while others attempt to bring members of the Blue Zones Project to evaluate their communities as candidates for Blue Zone status.
The original five communities helped inspire the Blue Zones Project, which is intended to help U.S. communities practice some of the same lifestyle habits and, hopefully, see their residents live longer and richer lives. Nine spots in the U.S. have been designated by the Blue Zones Project: one in Hawaii, two out West, five in the central states and one in Florida. They have been given the designation because they’ve been able to implement nine principles of health and longevity in their communities.
If Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni has her way, her community will be added to that list.
“We don’t have one in the Northeast,” Polimeni says. “We have a great deal of interest in community health with a wonderful health system. Our demographic is a good demographic. We have young families as well as older residents. We are trying to keep all age groups engaged and active. We have the facilities and amenities for everyone to stay healthy.”
She also pointed out that local agriculture allows for fresher, organic food to be consumed; however, she admits that the possibility of receiving Blue Zone status will take time, energy and monetary resources.
So far, the community has done its homework gauging interest in the project. Polimeni and Canandaigua City School District Superintendent Jamie Farr are convinced the community has what it takes to be a Blue Zone.
The Ontario County Health and Human Services Committee is hoping the Blue Zone Project will send members to evaluate the entire county, but in a recent committee meeting the minutes read “likely the Canandaigua City School District will be the initial area identified to work towards being designated a Blue Zone.”
“If I had to pigeonhole this, it’s about quality of life,” Farr says. “We would hope to have a better quality of life. We believe Canandaigua is a desirable location to reside and that’s why we live here.
“We have a lake and a mountain. We have great eateries and a lot of tourist attractions. Can we make this a destination place? People are moving out of New York state. Our population is dwindling. Can we defy those odds in Ontario County or Canandaigua? Can we reverse that trend?”
In Livingston County, the Genesee Valley Health Partnership is working with key stakeholders and community members to implement a chronic disease initaitive entitled Be Well In Livingston. The goal is to reduce obesity in children and adults by implementing policy, system and environmental changes. It is a movement to create healthier places to live, work and play. In Nunda, Keshequa Central School District teacher, coach and wellness coordinator Todd Isaman says the district and county are at the beginning stages of exploration, but he likes what he’s hearing. And grants are being applied for improvement of trails, parks and sports fields in the area.
“All these things in the area we would like to not only improve, but to promote as well,” Isaman says. “We would like to let people know what’s available. Our goal is to get all of this going in the spring. Right now, we are in the planning stages. We’re not rushing things.
“We have all of the ideas and we are working it into subgroups. We are working to help the school and the students.
“We don’t have a YMCA or a local recreation center, so the school could help out with that. We’re looking for ways to improve in our cafeteria and to look overall at our schoolhouse and try to improve in as many ways as we can.”