Communities continue to inquire about Albert Lea’s Blue Zones experience

Published 7:54 pm Friday, May 3, 2019

On at least a monthly basis, Albert Lean Ellen Kehr is contacted by communities interested in finding out about the city’s Blue Zones journey.

Recently, it was officials in Nova Scotia, Canada; next week, it’s leaders from a town in West Virginia.

Kehr, the organization lead for the Blue Zones Project in Albert Lea, on Friday hosted a busload of community members from Northfield for a day of sharing about the project and for a tour around the city.

Email newsletter signup

Kehr, along with others from the Blue Zones Project and Statewide Health Improvement Partnership leadership teams, highlighted the city’s experience dating back to 2009 when Albert Lea found out it was selected as the Blue Zones Project pilot city. They also discussed some of the wellness initiatives and infrastructure changes that have taken place in the years since in the community through worksites and school districts and changes in policy.

Kehr answered questions from the group about the project, ranging from costs, implementing worksite wellness clinics, how to achieve changes in school lunches, among other topics.

The Blue Zones Project is based on research conducted by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner and encourages principles seen in areas around the world where people are most likely to reach age 100. After the city completed the pilot project in 2010, which was centered around these principles, it became certified as a Blue Zones Community in 2016.

Kehr said after seeing the success in the 11 months of the pilot project, it was inconceivable for city leaders to let it stop there.

“You know what right looks like when you see it — we just knew it,” she said.

She said at first some community members didn’t understand why some changes were being made but now they have embraced many of these changes, including the downtown streetscape.

Justin Stets, president of Carlson Capital Management and president of Northfield Shares, a community foundation in Northfield, said Northfield community members were interested in learning more about the Blue Zones Project after Buettner was brought to Northfield last fall to encourage collaborative leadership.

“I think Northfield is a town that likes to deeply explore and look at options,” Stets said.

Represented in the group that came to Albert Lea on Friday were representatives of nonprofits,  a bank, the school district, the city, a construction company, an eldercare facility, public health and other entities.

Stets said he noted the connectedness of many aspects of Albert Lea that encouraged walkability and described the community’s unified and strategic approaches to projects that have been completed.

He said he appreciated hearing from members of the local leadership team about both the positives and challenges they have faced in accomplishing many of the initiatives that have been implemented under the Blue Zones Project. He noted the people the group spoke with were “highly enthusiastic.”

Though there was no consensus about how the community would move forward, they said they were appreciative of hearing more about how the project has changed Albert Lea.