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Have some more salad: Study finds rural residents lag in their veggie consumption

Ingrid Johnson-Evavold adds a grilled tomato to her plate during a recent meal at the family's Foxboro home. The meal also included homegrown green beans and garlic, farm market onions, wild rice and blueberries the family gathered and a home-raised chicken. Also pictured are Isaac, 15, Chris Evavold and Amelia, 10. (Steve Kuchera /

It's not uncommon for Chris Evavold and Ingrid Johnson-Evavold to know where everything on their dinner table came from.

"Occasionally we'll sit down to a meal, and virtually everything we've either raised or harvested wild," Johnson-Evavold said.

The meals at the home the couple shares with their three children near Pattison State Park in Douglas County invariably include ample servings of fruits and vegetables. Johnson-Evavold and the couple's middle child, Isabella, 13, eat meat only if it's locally produced.

"Anytime we're away from our home we're vegetarians," Johnson-Evavold said. "Because there aren't a lot of places you can eat local meat, except the Duluth Grill."

Across the state line in Lakewood Township, Gordon and Rachael Nyenhuis keep two baskets filled with fruit for snacking purposes for themselves and their two middle-school-aged children. "And then veggies -- it's cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, green beans -- pretty much the whole gamut of them, too," Gordon Nyenhuis said. "We usually have veggies with every dinner and then some sort of veggie with lunch."

The Nyenhuis and Evavold families both live in rural areas and eat plenty of produce. According to a national study from a Duluth institute, their healthy eating habits make them atypical.

"Most Americans do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables," concluded the study on U.S. rural adults' consumption of fruit and vegetables conducted by the Essentia Institute of Rural Health. "However, rural residents appear at greater risk for not making healthy dietary choices."

The study

Nawal Lutfiyya, a senior research scientist and chronic disease epidemiologist at the institute, wrote the study with two colleagues from the University of Illinois-Chicago College of Medicine at Rockford. Lutfiyya said her curiosity was aroused last year when she read a New York Times story about consumption of fruits and vegetables.

"I noticed one of the things that hasn't been looked at is the issue of rural populations," Lutfiyya said. "And I thought, 'Hmm. That's a really interesting question'."

Some of the answers surprised her. For example, the study showed that adults in rural areas who have children at home are less likely to eat enough produce than those with no children. She hadn't expected that, but her researcher's mind suggested possible explanations.

"If ... you have two parents who are working, or you're a single mom or a single dad, you're coming home at 6 o'clock, it is much easier to open a package or get dinner quickly on the table with processed food," Lutfiyya said. "And processed foods don't always include fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, they almost never do."

The kid factor

But having children at home hasn't deterred the Nyenhuis and Evavold families from healthy eating habits.

Nyenhuis said his children like candy in moderation, but they also like to munch on fruits and vegetables. The same applies to their friends.

"Almost all of my kids' friends when they've been over pretty much eat whatever I've given them," he said. "A lot of their friends come over and want fruit, too, or veggies, and they eat seconds on veggies."

The Evavolds are careful to say that they aren't health-food purists. "I mean, they'll love a McDonald's meal," Chris Evavold said. "We love our bag of chips every now and then or can of pop."

But all three children eat fruits and vegetables.

"My wife ... was picking organic blueberries up in Bayfield yesterday and some raspberries, and the kids were just chowing on that stuff," he said on Thursday.

'There's no fast food'

Lutfiyya said people who live in rural areas might not have access to supermarkets with a good selection of fruits and vegetables.

But Nyenhuis cited a balancing factor. "There's no fast food," he said. "I mean, we have to drive ... at least 35 minutes to go to a fast-food place and come back."

Lutfiyya said abstaining from fast food doesn't necessarily equate with healthy eating. And she said the high cost of produce might discourage some rural residents from buying an adequate supply of fruits and vegetables.

But Chris Evavold said his family is willing to pay a little extra not only to have produce but to have locally grown, organic produce. The Nyenhuises shop carefully for fruit on sale, and they get large bags of frozen vegetables at Sam's Club.

"We try to have it not go to waste," Nyenhuis said. "If a fruit starts getting a little bad we might have some ice cream and throw it in there for a shake or something."