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Emmanuel’s Urban Food Project

As Emmanuel’s very own Urban Food Project wraps up its second year of operation, project members reflect on what they’ve learned and their plans for next year.

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The Hub sat down with Adam Silver, Professor of Political Science; Deirdre Bradley-Turner, Director of Community Service and Service Learning; student leader Rachel Lebel, ’17 and student leader Cherokee Belval, ’17 to discuss the Urban Food Project. These four plus Kierstin Giunco, ’17 and Emily Larkin, ’17 are the core members of the Urban Food Project.

The mission is to promote healthy eating, food justice and food access within the Greater Boston community. The actual gardening and growing of the food takes place in raised beds at the Notre Dame Campus in Roxbury and in the greenhouse in Marian Hall. The Urban Food Project also tackles food education by bringing students, led by Lebel and Giunco, to Mission Grammar to teach kids about healthy eating and where food comes from.

As the Urban Food Project enters it’s third year, the members look back on their experiences and share what they have learned.

If you guys could tell us about what the Food Project is and your mission and your roles as members?

Deirdre Bradley-Turner: I think it’s important to start with why, why we chose this as a topic and why we’re looking at food justice and food access. The Urban Food Project started when three things were coming together at one time that brought us to look more closely at this topic. One was professor Silver’s course, “Politics of Food”, another is the Boston alternative spring break program, which focuses on food justice and food access, and then we were also in the process of purchasing the Notre Dame Campus in Roxbury. During the community meetings we heard from the community members that urban agriculture was of interest to the community. From our work with the community we knew that there was an interest and need for the food education. Those three things came together and we decided that we wanted to look more closely at food justice and food access and that is when the idea of the Urban Food Project was born. The NDC campus gave us the opportunity to have our own garden, but we needed resources for it. We were connected to the New Balance Foundation and they provided us with a $25,000 grant that initially was supposed to get us through the first year but those funds have funded us for a second year.

We also have institutional support, particularly from the facilities department; they helped us with purchasing and putting together the raised beds at the Notre Dame Campus. We also have the greenhouse in Marian Hall that has been on our campus for years and was not used very often and we were able to utilize this space.

Adam Silver: I just want to add that I think that the Urban Food Project speaks to the mission of the school in the aspects of social justice and one of the themes we explored in the FYS class, “Politics of Food” is the idea of accessibility to food and affordability. I think that these are issues of personal dignity, not just here in the United States but globally. There are always discussions on if we have enough food to feed the world and we do, its just that the mechanisms to get it to people. It’s an issue that we just don’t have a full answer to yet, but we know how to do it it’s just a matter of doing it.

I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not just the gardening aspect, but there are these other components as well that we envisioned as a broader project, not just growing food.

Like the education component?

AS: The project is designed to be student-lead and student initiated. There is a lot of latitude and responsibility that the students have and they’ve done a really great job learning on the job and bringing it forward.

Rachel Lebel: Last year we were in a fourth grade classroom and this year we moved down a little bit and we’re in a third grade classroom. I think that it’s a learning experience for us. It’s a lot of taking what we’re learning and bringing it down to the kids’ level where they can learn something from it and take it home to their parents too. This year we started with planting and learning where plants grow from and we’re hoping for next semester to move into the choice aspect of it. For example we are teaching them that seeds grow into food by taking that information and bringing it to a more applicable setting. For example when they’re in the cafeteria choosing between chips and fruit for a snack, we are encouraging them to pick the fruit. Also, not only teaching them the food aspect but the activity part of health as well. They can either stay inside and play video games or go outside and play baseball. A lot of the time kids who live in apartments don’t have a place to get physical exercise and we’re teaching the kids at Mission Grammar how to get outside and be active. It’s a learning experience for us to figure out how to bring this into the classroom in a fun way and get them to take something from it and make a big impact on their lives.

DBT: We did a lot of research on this. It is important to educate children on healthy eating when they’re young. For example, Type 2 childhood diabetes didn’t exist thirty years ago. When you look at statistics like that and compare to the amount of kids who have Type 2 diabetes now, thirty years ago that didn’t exist. What are we giving to our kids that is giving them this disease?

AS: Last year in May we brought the kids to the Notre Dame campus and helped them plant carrot seeds in the garden. It was a cool way to put into action what they were learning in the classroom. They didn’t get a chance to go back to see their crops, I wish that they got to so that they could see what they grew and have a chance to eat it. It’s a lot more interesting to see the change from seed to plant than going to the store and buying carrots or lettuce.

Can you talk about the community partners? Who they are and what they do for the Food Project?

DBT: Patty Mareno is a woman who lives in the Fort Hill neighborhood and she is sustainable living expert. We got to know her because she lives blocks away from the Notre Dame property and her daughter was a student of Mission Grammar. We reached out to her because none of us were experts in gardening; I think some of us are now and others are on their way. We needed some advice on what to plant, how to garden and what would thrive in our environment. Patty has been a great resource and guide for us. Nazareth Residence has been one of our stronger partners. That was another area of challenge with the project because we were working with moms and children. Cherokee did that piece last semester and it was a struggle because of the relationship building and the changing resident population, but the Nazareth Residence did benefit from when we harvested the food.

Cherokee Belval: It was hard because there were nine mothers who lived there and some of them have children so it was hard to organize a workshop because it wasn’t mandatory and it conflicted with their schedules. Encouraging them to come involved a lot of time spent hanging out with the mothers and making plans to attend the workshops with them. I think that it was better to give them the food instead of going in and trying to teach them. All of the elements of the Food Project came together for me at the Nazareth Residence.

Can you talk about what kinds of food is grown, how much is harvested and the process of growing at the Urban Food Project?

CB: I spent last semester working there and over the summer I started working in the garden more with Emily Larkin. We planted everything during Alternative Spring Break last year, and we’re going to do that again this year. We had seedlings in the greenhouse from March until May and then we transplanted them to the beds at Notre Dame in May. We have a ton of different tomatoes, carrots, radishes, lettuce,

AS: Eggplant.

CB: Eggplant, a ton of herbs, strawberries, peppers, cucumbers

AS: Did you say radishes? What about cabbage? Did we say cabbage yet?

CB: Yeah, we have cabbage.

DBT: We attempted corn. Remember that hailstorm? That hailstorm knocked it down.

AS: We have twelve raised beds at Notre Dame and it’s more than we thought it would be. That speaks to facilities they’re really supportive. We started planting in January and it’s a learning process, so this year we are going to start in March during Alternative Spring Break. We cleaned out the greenhouse and tried to make it more useful and transplanted everything in May once the beds were set up. Emily and Cherokee were in charge of gardening and cleaning and making sure that everything was harvested in time, that everything was watered in time and that the weeds were cleaned up. A lot of credit goes to them for staying on top of it; it wasn’t an easy task.

DBT: The community service summer fellows also assisted Emily and Cherokee in the garden. Things really started to grow in August and we donated the food to the Nazareth residents where the mothers would use it to cook a variety of food. A lot of the mothers cut up the vegetables and made soup. We overplanted in the greenhouse and ended up with an enormous amount of seedlings, too many for the raised beds. We shared them with the greater community and Emmanuel facility, staff and students. Going forward we now know what was successful and what the Nazareth moms really used and liked, I think we can make adjustments.

CB: It’s been cool for Emily and I because we get together and talk about the positives and what needs to be improved and what we’ve learned from it so far. We can talk about each bed and what to plant. We’ve learned a lot from the community and now we’re ready to use what we’ve learned.

Last question, how can students get involved?

DBT: They can contact any one of us; there are a variety of ways to get involved. I know that Rachel and Kierstin are open to students helping with the educational component and they go to Mission Grammar every other week. Students can also work directly with Cherokee and Emily on the gardening piece. Right now we are working on putting the raised beds to bed and on the Boston Alternative Spring Break trip students will be planting the seedlings. We will be transplanting them in May and there are definitely opportunities for students then to get involved with that process.

AS: The more people the better!

The Boston Globe covered the Urban Food Project last May, read about it: here

Posted by on November 20, 2015. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.