View All Posts

Nov 15

New health officer talks 'roots'

Posted on November 15, 2019 at 10:04 AM by Katie Combs Prichard

As Placer County’s new health officer I’ve been asked a lot about my background. I tell people that coming here to Placer is a “full circle moment” for me, having completed my preventive medicine residency training with the county a decade ago. I tell them a bit about my various roles at the California Department of Public Health, from working on chronic disease to food policy. But I think the piece that surprises or intrigues folks the most isn’t my medical credentials — it’s the fact that I stepped aside from the title of “doctor” for a few years to be an urban farmer.

To me, though I was stepping away from CDPH at the time, I wasn’t stepping away from public health. What many people don’t realize is that achieving health is not just about health care. It is embedded into everyday life: the quality of the air we breathe, the walkability of our streets, the quality of the food we eat, the safety and affordability of our housing and much more. When people don’t have access to a healthy environment or opportunities to make healthier choices, their health and quality of life suffer.

And so, to me, farming was a natural extension of my public health work: working to promote access to healthy, affordable food in an underserved community. The farm I built in a low-income neighborhood in West Sacramento was called “Root Cause Farm” — so named because in my eyes, it helped address a root cause of poor health. After all, it’s better to make good nutrition the norm from the start, rather than playing catch up later in life to repair any damage done.

My urban farm became a favorite hangout for a group of neighborhood kids after school and during the summer. They worked hard to plant seeds, pull weeds and harvest crops, and were eager to sample the fruits and vegetables they helped grow, especially watermelon and cantaloupe. Much to my surprise, they even enjoyed raw beets — perhaps not for the taste as much as for the way it turned their mouths bright red!

Though I no longer run the farm, I am excited to explore the many agricultural offerings that Placer brings to the dinner table. The farm-to-fork spirit is alive and well here. I am looking forward to attending the Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn later this month, sampling some of the juicy treats grown by our local farmers and participating in the fun run on Nov. 24. If you’ll be there, please introduce yourself and say hi.

Our local farms are a strength that makes our community shine — they help local businesses while giving people, especially our kids, access to healthy food. Yet, the data show that not every child growing up in Placer has the same opportunities to be healthy. For example, a greater share of families in Kings Beach are low-income and live more than a mile away from a grocery store, compared to Rocklin where there is easier access. As a community, we can leverage our strengths to make sure that all kids have opportunities to thrive — from nutrition to housing and education and everything in between. Strong roots grow a strong community. 

Dr. Aimee Sisson has returned to Placer as the county’s new health officer. Contact the public health office at 530-889-7141.