As some of you know, Chase and I have decided to pursue slightly different goals over the next few months. Chase will be advancing his career by taking classes at a local college in Minnesota and selling art from his very own studio. I am currently writing to you from Costa Rica, where I am working on implementing a health program for the community of Fila Tigre.

Chase has diverse artistic interests and is currently enrolled in Art History, Theater Production, Photography and Website Construction at Central Lakes College. With the opportunity to finally have an art space of his own, besides our tiny apartment dining room, he has rented a studio at the Franklin Arts Center. Stop by and see him sometime, he will woo you with his charm and you will likely come away with a one of a kind Chase Vreeland creation. Word spreads fast in a small town and Brainerd is no different, the local news station heard about Chase’s talent and interviewed him in his studio last week. It is probably good that I am not in the same town as him right now, between attending school, creating props for the theater and working in his studio, he doesn’t have time for much else in his life. With the glories of modern-day technologies, we are able to talk every day and keep up to date on one another’s life.

Vegetable Truck Costa Rica

I came down to Costa Rica to pursue an interest in health and food that has been growing over the past year. With the help of my sister, Alexa, who has been a volunteer for the past two years, we will attempt to improve the health of the Fila Tigre community. Fila Tigre is filled with 300 men, women and children who have become like family to Alexa. As her relationship with the community deepened, she heard from many people that diabetes, obesity and hypertension were spreading like wildfire and many were unsure how to stop the destruction. To me, it seemed like a chance to improve the current and future health of Fila Tigre, so I purchased a plane ticket and headed south.

Only a generation ago, Fila Tigre was a remote village in the southern mountains of Costa Rica. Families lived off of what the jungle provided by hunting and gathering the majority of their sustenance. While still remote in comparasion to the rest of Costa Rica, the influx of processed foods due to lower transportation costs, has drastically changed the eating habits of the community. Today, meals are filled with refined carbohydrates, sugars, and fat. Processed food products are now conveniently available at the local pulpería, whereas vegetables are expensive and difficult to come by. Currently, vegetables are delivered in the back of a pickup truck by Lobo, who usually makes it to Fila Tigre once time each month. Fila Tigre has rich soil, plenty of water and the knowledge to grow vegetables, but their hillsides are filled with coffee plants. To provide for their families, many have chosen to grow coffee for cash than food for consumption.

Costa Rican Cow

The men spend their days picking coffee or herding cattle through the mountains and the women are confined to cleaning their home and tending the children. Both are equally important, but the confines of a home drastically reduce the activity levels of the women and when combined with an unhealthy diet result in weight gain. With weight gain comes an increased risk for the infamous, non-communacable diseases of diabetes and heart disease.

Our plan to improve the health of Fila Tigre involves the completion of three projects:

  1. Teach nutrition classes – stress the importance of eating vegetables every day and explain how sugary drinks, white rice and fatty meat can lead to weight gain.
  2. Develop regular walking groups – organize leaders in the community who can commit to leading walking groups on a regular basis.
  3. Build gardens for families – make it possible for families to eat vegetables right out of their own backyard, rather than waiting a month to buy produce.

Diabetes and hypertension are two life-threatening conditions that are on the rise across Costa Rica. Both genetics and lifestyle influence a person’s chances of becoming diabetic or hypertensive and while we cannot control genetics, we do have control over our diet and activity level. With a little education and a lot of hard work, we can decrease the chances of Fila Tigre becoming an unhealthy statistic of a developing nation.

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