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WomenFest to focus on healthy eating

Cookbook author, food blogger are big draw at this year's fest

By Pete Pichaske

11:41 AM EDT, April 25, 2014

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If you're a woman who cares about eating well, has Howard County got an event for you.

The county Department of Citizen Services' Office on Aging will hold the sixth annual WomenFest on Saturday, April 26 at the Gary Arthur Community Center, in Cooksville.

In addition to additional health screenings, seminars and vendors, this year's event will include presentations by two nationally known foodies. Cookbook author and chef Jackie Newgent, veteran of numerous television shows, will speak on "The Dish on Plant-Centered Eating: Enticing Ideas for Creating Healthful Entrees Without Meat." Fellow cookbook author and food blogger Sally McKenney will appear with her new cookbook, Sally's Baking Addiction: Irresistible Cupcakes, Cookies, and Desserts for Your Sweet Tooth Fix.

Organizers say bringing in food experts like Newgent and McKenney is part of a campaign to broaden the appeal of WomenFest.

"We're trying to get women from all walks of life, all age groups," said Starr Sowers, health and wellness division manager in the Office on Aging. "We want them to take a break from their everyday routine and focus on their own health, their own well-being, for the entire day."

The first WomenFest, held in 2009 at the Bain Center, in Columbia, featured seminars and screenings aimed at older women.

In later years, the event was shifted from a weekday to a Saturday to accommodate working women, and from the Bain Center to west county. New vendors and offerings were added to appeal to a younger crowd. Last year, for example, the keynote speaker was Andrea Lustig, a beauty guru with Glamour magazine.

"We think that brought in younger people," said the Office on Aging's Courtney Barkley, co-chairwoman of this year's WomenFest. "We hope to continue that this year. We want this to be intergenerational."

This weekend's event will include an array of seminars, with titles such as "Weigh 2 Go," "Fashion That Flatters" and "It's Thyme to Boost Your Immunity."

It will include more than 90 vendors and exhibits; seated massages; nutrition counseling; and health screenings for blood pressure, glaucoma, osteoporosis and more.

"What we're trying to do is emphasize healthy behaviors, to make sure people are really engaged in their lives," Sowers said. "We want to give women … a lot of different ways to focus on their health." 

Regina Jenkins, another co-chairwoman and director of the Glenwood 50+ Center where the event is held, said WomenFest has become a fun, "feel-good" event with broad appeal.

"It's got a good vibe to it," she said. "It's not just about health screenings and serious things, although it has that. … We try to incorporate things that are trending, things that'll interest all women."

WomenFest is also a good showcase for the Glenwood center, Jenkins said, attracting people who would not usually visit the west county facility.

About 600 people attended the 2013 WomenFest, and organizers are hoping to beat that number this year.

"We've always wanted something that would really be beneficial to women in Howard County," Sowers said. "We've always wanted this to be educational … and focusing on health prevention."

More to come

WomenFest is just one of a growing number of county-organized events and programs aimed at specific populations in Howard County.

More are on the horizon. Last year, the Office on Aging held its first WomenFest-style event for men, and Sowers said officials are "brainstorming" how to make that an annual event.

In addition, she said, her office is planning to start a walking/hiking program modeled after the successful bicycling program — Cycle2health — started last year, where seniors meet for weekly, volunteer-led bike rides through Howard County.

"The [bicyling program] is very, very popular," Sowers said, "and there's been definite interest in a walking and hiking program. … We hope to have it going by next spring."

As for WomenFest, organizers say it has secured its place as a regular, valued county-organized event.

"It has really broad appeal," Jenkins said. "Women come with their grandmothers, they come with their mothers. There's something for everybody."

The sixth annual WomenFest will be held Saturday, April 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Gary J. Arthur Community Center, 2400 Route 97, in Cooksville. The free event will include guest speakers, seminars and health screenings, and this year's focus is on eating well. For more information and a schedule, go to howardcountyaging.org/WomenFest.