IMMOKOLEE, Fla. — Adelaida Rodriguez, 34, walked quickly along North 1st Street in Immokalee recently, keeping up with her three sons, ages 8, 6 and 4, as they rode their bikes to Ciclovia Immokalee!, what is becoming a monthly healthy living festival in the small, Southwest Florida town of about 24,000 people.
“I like to go just because it’s a good thing for the family to do,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a good day to do family activities and be outdoors.”
One of the stops she and her sons made was at a booth measuring body mass index to make sure they were all within healthy weight ranges, which they were.
In a town known for poverty and migrant workers, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is working with local community agencies on Ciclovia Immokalee! to change area families’ health habits, including exercising more and making better choices in the foods they eat.
Ciclovia is a Spanish word that means “cycleway,” either a permanent bike path or the closing of streets to cars and trucks for cyclists and pedestrians. Each first Saturday of the month, health workers, athletes and leaders close the street next to Immokalee Community Park for this festival to teach people about exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables.
Officials say the program grew out of a need to expand the reach of “Salud Immokalee,” a collaborative research effort with the Florida State University College of Medicine to fight childhood obesity in the community.
“The child obesity rate is particularly high in the community, and opportunities for fitness activities for families are few,” said Suzanne Fundingsland, a UF/IFAS Extension agent for the Family Nutrition Program in Collier County. “The first event in February drew about 400 people, who came out to play and meet their neighbors.”
Researchers from FSU recently examined obesity among children of migrant farm workers living in Immokalee and found that of Imokalee’s 8,000 children, 20 percent are overweight and another 27 percent are obese.
Other area agencies are also encouraging people to participate. Schools give out postcard invitations to remind children to attend, and organizers are working with the Harry Chapin Food Bank to provide fresh fruits and vegetables.
Immokalee Community Park is turned into a festival of fruits, vegetables and fun. Families can be seen doing yoga and zumba, jumping ropes and swirling hoola hoops, or climbing the face of the Collier County Sheriff’s Department’s mobile rock wall. April’s event this Saturday even includes the Annual Immokalee Easter Egg Hunt, sponsored by the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department. Ciclovia Immokalee! has become so popular that officials have decided to hold the event through the summer, as well.
“The community partners who are making this happen are in agreement – Ciclovia Immokalee! will continue to grow because we are offering something that is fun, free and healthy, and people are responding,” said Fundingsland. “Parents and children are excited to have something to do together in a safe, car-free environment.”
A slideshow of recent events can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99hxyVqRK70
By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, email@example.com
Source: Suzanne Fundingsland, 239-252-4800, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo caption: Children take part in Ciclovia Immokalee! Credit: UF/IFAS