Be the Change: Center for Healthy Communities Fosters Love – Benefits of Fresh, Healthful Foods


Chico residents Cindy Wolff and Sheila McQuaid work together to bring fresh, locally grown produce to the North State through their work at the Center for Healthy Communities (CHC).

Inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, who said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” the two women are working to further the CHS’s mission to create healthy communities in the North State and beyond.

The CHC is a leader in nutrition education, food security and physical activity programs and policies, explained Wolff. The organization – now celebrating its 15th year – performs a variety of tasks, including outreach for CalFresh, working with local farmers, and offering community services and classes. The CHC is housed at California State University, Chico, but does not receive programmatic funding from the university.

Introducing a variety of natural, healthful foods helps promote receptivity to new foods.  It also helps cultivate optimal nutritional health – especially for young children, Wolff said. Scientific research shows that eating a variety of wholesome foods protects health.

Sheila McQuaid (left) and Cindy Wolff(right) make plans for offering community classes including working with local farmers.

Sheila McQuaid (left) and Cindy Wolff(right) make plans for offering community classes including working with local farmers.

Wolff is a fourth-generation member of a farming family in the North State. “Most of my family were growers of tree crops, but some worked in cattle production and food sales,” she says. “I inherited their love of the land and the thrill of growing food that nourishes people.”

McQuaid, a fifth-generation Californian, says, “I am most influenced by my mother. She believed in cooking whole foods, eating lots of fruit and veggies, and shopping at our local farmers’ market. Food and gardens dominated many conversations in our household.” Sheila started working at CHC after running her own small farm where she grew heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs for three years. As the center’s Farm to Fork coordinator, McQuaid buys local produce for CHC’s grant-funded programs and supports Farm to School efforts in North State schools.

“Children need to be included in the discussion of family food choices and meal preparation,” Sheila says. “They need to know where their food comes from and how it is grown. It is essential for kids to learn that the choices they make to eat healthy foods, and to avoid too much sugar, will make their bodies feel good and strong and keep their minds focused.”

“Knowing what is in season is a key to buying tasty, affordable food,” McQuaid says. From freshly picked apples now to sweet carrots as the weather gets cold, eating seasonally is a very rewarding practice. Knowing what’s in season is key to buying tasty and affordable food.

Both Sheila McQuaid and Cindy Wolff say they are inspired by local farmers.

“I love to purchase my food directly from these folks who work so hard to grow it,” McQuaid says. “I’m also continuously inspired by our kids, who – given the chance – will pick healthy food every time, especially when they grow it and/or cook it themselves.”

art-1016-btc3According to Wolff, activities of growing, harvesting, distributing, selling, purchasing and preparing foods enhance and preserve local communities.

“I just purchased several servings of elote (Mexican corn on the cob) from a Spanish- speaking, street-side stand in Chico,” she says. “As outcomes of this single event, I had opportunities to promote a local farmer and vendor, practice my Spanish, introduce my family to a key food for our Spanish-speaking neighbors, and enjoy a healthful food.”

When asked for her favorite quick, go-to recipes, McQuaid mentioned Caprese salad, which she makes with fresh, sliced tomatoes, basil from the garden, fresh mozzarella cheese from Orland Farmstead Creamery, local balsamic vinegar drizzle, sea salt, pepper and local olive oil.  “My kids and I eat that at every meal,” McQuaid says.

“I love rice with kale and chopped nuts,” says Wolff. “I keep a container of cooked rice in my refrigerator at all times. It’s a great meal starter both as the heart of an entrée, a side dish, or in a green salad.”

“As an educator for more than 30 years, I absolutely believe that education from an early age is essential for North State – and all world-citizens – to protect both our environment and our personal health,” Wolff says. “Growing, purchasing, preparing, sharing and eating local foods foster those goals.” 

Cindy Wolff and Sheila McQuaid can be reached at the Center for Healthy Communities by calling (530) 898-5323.

The mission of our Be the Change column is to feature community members from the North State who are actively making a difference in community life. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to

Skye Kinkade
About Skye Kinkade

Skye Kinkade is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and mother of four lively children. She enjoys being part of a close-knit community that is so generous and kind in difficult times.

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