Healthy eating strengthens bodies, communities

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 11/30/2011, 8:09 a.m.
Lizette Varela stands on a garden plot at ReVision Urban Farm in Dorchester. Varela works on the farm and...
Lizette Varela stands on a garden plot at ReVision Urban Farm in Dorchester. Varela works on the farm and lives in the ReVision Family Home with her son, JJ. Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil

The Dorchester Community Food Co-Op is still in the planning phase, which means that right now Silverman is working to generate interest and support throughout the community. “The community reaction has been incredible,” she said. “People are really, really enthusiastic about it.”

In addition to bringing high-quality, affordable food to an underserved area, Silverman envisions the co-op becoming a pillar of support throughout Dorchester. “We’re hoping that by spending money in the community, people are creating jobs in the community and revitalizing the neighborhood,” she said. “To have a really vital, wonderful store in the neighborhood serves as an anchor for people in that neighborhood.”

Like ReVision, the Dorchester Food Co-Op demonstrates that fixing the food landscape fixes broader social problems as well. Good food is not just the solution to poor health, but to community ills like unemployment and underdevelopment as well.

ReVision, Fair Foods, and the Dorchester Food Co-Op are not the only local groups working to transform Boston’s food landscape. Through a variety of initiatives, The Food Project, an urban farming program for youth, provides food education and affordable produce to many Boston residents. As a youth, City Councilor At-Large Felix Arroyo worked for The Food Project, and said, “It changed my appreciation of food and how we get it.”

Patricia Canning, the 24-year-old EMT featured in the first story of this series, is also an alumna of The Food Project, and credits the program for teaching her how to cook. For a summer she worked on the farm, and the following school year she worked in the kitchen — and learned so much that she even catered a wedding as an intern.

The Boston Natural Areas Network’s Produce to Pantry project organizes community gardens to distribute part of their harvest to local shelters. “Most food pantries don’t have access to food that’s not processed,” explained Karen Chaffee, stewardship manager of BNAN. “We’re providing people with nutrients that they otherwise wouldn’t get in their diet.”

In addition to these and dozens of other local food-focused groups, social service organizations not traditionally affiliated with food, like ABCD, are now putting nutrition on their agendas.

 Alongside these individuals, organizations, charities and businesses, the City of Boston has been one of the most active forces in transforming the city’s food landscape. The city has supported legislation banning junk food and soda from public schools and soda from city buildings; an initiative to put more fresh produce in corner stores; celebrity chef cooking courses for Boston Public Schools parents; a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm share for senior citizens; increasing the number of community garden plots and grocery stores; creating healthy food trucks; and Boston Bounty Bucks, which doubles the value of SNAP at local farmers markets, among many other programs.

The city’s tremendous commitment to increased food access started long before it was fashionable. In 1986, then-City Councilman Thomas M. Menino spearheaded the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program that offered vouchers to WIC recipients for produce at farmers’ markets. Today, this local initiative has become a national program.