Lesson Learned (July 7)

Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department: Unsung heroes of the Strawberry Festival

This week we welcome guest columnist Allia Shaver, high school freshman.

I believe we are all called to make a difference. I am fascinated by people who answer that call. Dr. Greenbrier Almond—physician, psychiatrist, writer, Board of Education member, my journalism teacher—makes a difference. Dr. Almond recently arranged an educational opportunity for me to interview several public health officials who make a huge difference in our community. Dr. Almond and I asked Dr. Joseph Reed, Medical Director of the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, if he might provide a writing/learning experience for me. Thank you, Dr. Reed, for granting that request and answering the call!

Doc Almond always makes learning FUN! We both love the Strawberry Festival—food, parades, food, antique cars, art exhibits, food. Seeing a theme here? Yes, food! We combined our mutual love of all things Strawberry Festival, joining with the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department team of Dr. Reed, Chris Garrett, RS, Warren Elmer, and Emibe James Arhuidese, in a task of great importance to the community and the Strawberry Festival - inspection of the food vendors.

Maybe you are like me in that when I think of the Health Department, I think of the pandemic. I think of them fighting the spread of COVID-19 using education, “Wash your hands! Social distance!” I think of them giving COVID-19 vaccines and urging all to get vaccinated. They have truly been heroes and have made a difference in the health of our community. I did not think about their role in keeping our Strawberry Festival foods safe. My journalism teacher encourages research. I found that Dr. Reed is very active in preventative medicine including tobacco use prevention and promotion of Green Bean Weekend, a program he founded to help feed the hungry and educate the community in the importance of eating veggies and fruits.

Dr. Reed has practiced medicine in Buckhannon for a few years, really over 56 years. He delivered 2,762 babies, and one of the babies grew up to be the mayor of Buckhannon, Mayor Robbie Skinner. Dr. Reed also has a very sweet role in the Strawberry Festival as the Grand Judge in the Sweetest Strawberry Contest.

The Sweetest Strawberry Contest was founded by Dr. Harold Almond, Doc Greenbrier Almond’s father. Doc Sr. LOVED strawberries and the Strawberry Festival. Doc and his granddaughter, Maria Almond, experimented with growing the sweetest strawberries. Doc found that 12-year-olds have 12,000 taste buds—the most taste buds we will ever have; it is downhill for taste buds after 12. Doc’s contest included a dozen 12-year-old judges judging the sweetest strawberry. The contest has continued every year. Dr. Almond one day passed the strawberry gavel to Dr. Reed. Dr. Reed makes a difference!

The Health Department, with Dr. Reed as its director, is responsible for the overall health and well-being of the community. They use the practice of medicine, research and education. They see patients, give vaccines and research potential health risks to the community. They provide education to children in schools and in facilities like the senior center. They monitor and protect our water, food safety, the public pool and more. They inspect restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses and food vendors at events, such as our much loved Strawberry Festival.

I was really excited with this educational opportunity! Doc Almond and I would accompany Dr. Reed and the other Health Department Officials in their inspection of the 80th Strawberry Festival. I was ready to learn and sample foods from all of the vendors. I learned a lot. First lesson, sadly, sampling the food was not part of the inspection. I shadowed Chris Garrett, RS (Registered Sanitarian). He looked for cleanliness of the food preparation area, hand washing of the ones who would be preparing and serving the foods. He inspected food storage and cooking areas. Temperatures must meet the safety standards in keeping the foods at the proper temperatures for storage, cooking, preparing and eating. Chris showed me how to check oil used for cooking my favorite deep-fried foods. I learned about frozen food storage. I learned how Dippin’ Dots are frozen with liquid nitrogen, which is really cool, well actually really cold. The Health Department team stressed the importance of each vendor meeting all of the requirements in keeping the foods and the community safe. A little nausea after riding the Ferris wheel or the merry-go-round might be expected by some, but nausea and vomiting by food poisoning from vendors not following hygiene rules or safe food storage and preparation...just no!

I did get the opportunity to visit more than a few of the food vendors as a consumer and not as a journalism student. I did more than sample the strawberry pancakes, 4-H beef sandwiches, chocolate-covered strawberries, lemonade and pizza. I took my mom along for her birthday, and she really enjoyed the food. I did too and even more so because I knew it was safely stored, prepared and served. The food vendors had the approval of our Health Department.

Lesson learned—I really enjoyed this assignment. I learned that keeping our community and Strawberry Festival attendees safe from potential food health risks is important. We are what we eat. I also learned that our health department has many heroes, keeping our community and the Strawberry Festival attendees safe. Dr. Reed, Chris Garrett, Warren Elmer and Emibe James Arhuidese, thank you for making a difference.

-Allia Shaver


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