Interview with Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director
GreenRoots (GR) is a TPC second-year grantee that is continuing its amazing work as a community-based organization dedicated to improving and enhancing the urban environment and public health in Chelsea and surrounding communities. For this interview with Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni, we wanted to spotlight GR’s efforts on food insecurity and access to healthy foods.
“Receiving vegetables from the GreenRoots garden helps us distribute healthy food to the community,” celebrates Reverend Elaine Mendes of Revival International Church and Food Pantry.
Covid-19 shone a glaring light on the severe food insecurity concerns in Chelsea. The Healthy Chelsea/Chelsea Hunger Network 2019 Community Food Assessment Survey highlighted food insecurity even before the pandemic. According to the assessment, 71% of respondents stated that they often or sometimes worried their food would run out before they got money to buy more at the end of the month; 60% of respondents stated that the food they bought didn’t last and they didn’t have money to buy more at the end of the month; and 25% relied on school lunch for food.
The pandemic, which wreaked physical and economic havoc on the local community, exacerbated the severe food security challenges. Despite having one of the most frequented grocery stores in the community, many say they cannot afford to purchase nutritious foods. According to the aforementioned food assessment, 48% of respondents didn’t eat fruits and vegetables because they are “too expensive.” Within Chelsea’s 1.8 square miles, there is a plethora of fast-food options – nine Dunkin Donuts, three McDonald’s, and one Burger King to name a few – that entice families with low prices for large portions of non-nutritious foods.
GR is working to empower residents to achieve food sovereignty by growing the fruits, vegetables, and herbs they want to eat, including culturally relevant foods. Over the course of the last two pandemic summers, GR’s Urban Farm provided upwards of 5,000 pounds of donated produce to Revival International Church’s food pantry as well as directly to families. TPC’s grant funding helped to establish a new team of youth who work at GR Urban Farm and community gardens. This team, the Urban Farm Crew, is made up of 18- to 25-year-olds who are gaining civic engagement, community building. and empowerment skills while learning and sharing urban farming skills.
To build off the success of its growing spaces and community engagement as well as to have a greater impact on the chronic diseases associated with food insecurity, including diabetes and obesity, GR is constructing a Teaching Kitchen adjacent to its Urban Farm and first community garden. The Teaching Kitchen, made possible by a generous grant from Mass General Brigham, will offer programming in multiple languages for community members to learn how to cook nutritious meals using vegetables, fruits, and herbs from the urban growing spaces. The Teaching Kitchen will also be a place to share meals, build community, and simply be together – something the Chelsea community needs badly after two years of pandemic isolation.
The Teaching Kitchen design process is underway – with community members leading the way – and construction will begin in late spring/early summer. GR welcomes all TPC friends to join them this fall when they cut the ribbon on this community asset!
To learn more about Chelsea social determinants of health and how they impacted vulnerability to Covid-19, please read http://www.greenrootschelsea.org/chelseacovid-19report. You can learn more about the important work GR is doing at www.greenrootschelsea.org.