rosetons community farmers market
July 17, 2013
by Shawn Dell Joyce 4:32 pm

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell cites a study that proves a strong localized community actually improves your health. The study is centered on Roseto, Pa., a small community comprised mainly of immigrants from a small Italian village also named Roseto. This village attracted international attention in 1950 when it was exposed as having the lowest rate of heart disease in the whole nation.

The study, led by physician Stewart Wolf, studied the entire population of two thousand people and discovered that the death rate from disease was 35 percent lower than the rest of the country. There was no suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction and very little crime. No one was on welfare, and no one had peptic ulcers.

They found that Rosetons ate pretty much what the rest of the country was eating, deriving 41 percent of their calories from fat, with many struggling with obesity, and lots of heavy smokers. The difference between Roseto and the rest of the country was not diet, exercise or a genetic predisposition to good health. It had nothing to do with the land or the water and everything to do with the town itself.

What these immigrants brought with them to rural Pennsylvania was an “old world” sense of community. Rosetans made the time to stop and chat with each other on the street, cooked for each other in backyard parties and held friendships in high priority. Extended families lived under the same roof, with elderly parents commanding respect. There were twenty-two civic groups serving the small population.

Roseto had a healthy and prosperous localized community where everyone knew each other, and the entire community was there to lend a helping hand when things got rough. Wealth was never flaunted, and those falling on hard times were never shunned. The villagers had woven a social fabric of interconnected relationships where each thread was valued and needed for the good of the whole.

As a result, individuals had a sense of belonging and well-being. Their labor was valued and all were considered equally important to the community, whether they were the mayor or the garbage man. This fabric was economic as well as social, with much of the community’s needs met by member’s labors. No chain stores, big box stores, or Chinese imports were valued over locally produced goods and services.

Sound familiar? Yes, there are still a few American towns and villages that could pass for Roseto.

Researchers who worked with Wolf found new ways to look at heart disease and treat the patient holistically, as a member of a community. The ongoing recession and state of the world weigh heavy on our communities. Money is tight for most of us, family relations are strained, and stress is wearing out our last nerves. Now is the time when we need to pull together and look above our individual problems to build a stronger community.

When we look at individuals in our community, they are each unique and beautiful. What makes a work of art is seeing each individual brushstroke as part of a whole painting. As an artist, I often have to take a few steps back from my work to see the painting as a whole. As a community member, let’s collectively take a few steps back, regard the lovely tapestry of friends, neighbors and small businesses and ask, “What can I do to make this better?” Realize that your efforts toward building a stronger community are good for your health, your family’s health and the well-being of us all.