Friday, March 6th, 2015

Area woman to lead childhood health initiative

Debra Eschmeyer to head First Lady's Let's Move! program

By Jared Mauch

Debra Eschmeyer, New Knoxville, has been named executive director of First Lady. . .

WASHINGTON D.C. - An Auglaize County farmer is taking a leading national role in raising awareness about children's health and nutrition.
Debra Eschmeyer, 35, New Knoxville, recently was named executive director of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. The White House describes her as "a dedicated and tireless champion for children's health."
"For more than a decade, Deb has been leading the way in teaching kids about the importance of healthy eating," Obama said in a White House press release. "From classrooms and gardens to kitchens and farms, Deb has made learning about nutrition fun and accessible for kids across the country. I am thrilled that she will be continuing this important work here at the White House, and I know she will be an invaluable addition to our team."
Eschmeyer, according to the press release, will lead Obama's work to help America raise a healthier generation of kids and ensure that all kids have the opportunity for long, healthy lives. As senior advisor for nutrition policy, she will also advise on food and nutrition issues beyond Let's Move!
The role was previously held by Sam Kass, who departed in December to live full time in New York City.
"It is an honor and a privilege to serve the country," Eschmeyer said.
She never would have imagined getting a White House post when she became actively involved in nutrition issues in 2007, Eschmeyer said.
"I'm not sure if anyone would think they would be working in the White House," Eschmeyer said. Her experience in public partnerships, more than a decade working in nutrition and farming and her familiarity with Let's Move! made her a strong candidate for the position, she said.
Eschmeyer grew up on an Auglaize County dairy farm and has been interested in farming and nutrition ever since. Her passion for nutrition was spurred on when her husband, Jeff, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 25.
"I am very proud of Deb - a small-town Ohio girl - earning the unique opportunity to work at the highest-level with the first lady," her husband said. "She is amplifying the amazing farming, agriculture and nutrition experiences we've had over the past decade to build a healthier America."
Eschmeyer's nutritional activities began to pick up when she was outreach and communications director for the National Farm to School Network , which takes agricultural education into schools, in 2007-11. She co-founded Food Corps in Portland, Ore. in 2009 and was its vice president of external affairs from 2010-14. That program connects children to healthy food by creating school gardens and improving nutrition education, she said.
Let's Move! is designed to reduce childhood obesity, which has been rising since the 1970s. The program focuses on getting children to eat healthier foods. Since the program began five years ago, the pre-kindergarten obesity rate has finally started to drop, she said. However, one in three children in the country is still obese. The program's goal is to reduce the childhood obesity rate to 5 percent, she said.
She wants to create public partnerships to advance the program's goals through its 10 sub-initiatives ranging from encouraging more physical activity to promoting health through faith-based organizations to increasing clinical efforts to improve children's health.
In an early initiative, the program placed salad bars in schools across the country, she said.
Eschmeyer graduated from Xavier University in 2002 with degrees in marketing and international affairs. She received the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2011 for her involvement with the National Farm to School Network and Food Corps. The award celebrates visionaries responsible for creating a healthier, safer and more sustainable world, she said.
She and her husband took over Harvest Sun Farms located on Lock 2 Road south of New Knoxville from his grandmother in 2008. They will maintain the 22-acre farm while she is in Washington, D.C., she said. Garlic is growing strong at the farm now, she said. More than 30 fruits and vegetables have been harvested and planted since the couple took over the fifth-generation Eschmeyer family farm.
While in Washington, Eschmeyer said she is excited to have the opportunity to do small-scale farming in the White House garden.
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