Visit to Urban Farm in Roxbury Shows Stimulus Funding at Work
Boston - Mayor Thomas M. Menino showcased Boston’s efforts to bolster urban gardening in underserved communities during a visit today with US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to The Food Project’s Urban Farm in Roxbury. He said the $1 million in federal funding that Boston will spend on gardening initiatives over the next two years will dramatically increase affordability and access to fresh, healthy food in neighborhoods with the least access to it.
"Increasing access to healthy, affordable foods through farmers’ markets and urban gardening opportunities is a critical part of our obesity prevention strategy," Mayor Menino said. "The same neighborhoods where obesity rates are higher are the same neighborhoods where we have made progress on increasing access and lowering the cost of fresh, healthy food, but where we still have more work to do."
Separately, Mayor Menino announced that the city is doubling funding for its Bounty Bucks program so that residents shopping at farmers’ markets with food stamps will be able to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables with their dollar. The infusion of city dollars will allow at least 2,500 additional residents to have matched purchases at farmers’ markets this season, so that their $10 purchase yields $20 in produce.
Mayor Menino made his comments after Secretary Sebelius was taken on a youth-led tour of The Food Project’s Urban Farm on West Cottage Street, where she witnessed young people growing vegetables for distribution at local farmers’ markets. These youths will also help construct backyard garden beds so that local residents can grow their own fruits and vegetables. Her visit was a chance for Secretary Sebelius to see up-close how Boston is putting to use some of the $12.5 million in grants it received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
“These innovative projects not only create healthy, fresh, and affordable food choices right here in your own backyard; it also gives young people a hands-on opportunity to develop healthy living habits that can benefit them for the rest of their lives,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Urban farms like this one that are putting prevention to work are really models for the rest of the country. The young people who work here are not just building a healthier Boston, but a healthier America too.”
Boston was one of 44 communities that Secretary Sebelius announced in March were being awarded two-year stimulus grants for "Communities Putting Prevention to Work," a national initiative to address two leading causes of premature death and disability – obesity and tobacco use. Boston was the only city in Massachusetts to receive funding and one of only seven communities nationwide to get both grants - $6.4 million for obesity prevention and $6.1 million to reduce tobacco use, including connecting residents to tobacco-cessation services and creating smoke-free environments.
About $1 million of the $6.4 million for obesity prevention is being used to improve access to affordable produce in Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester, which have higher rates of obesity – at 40 percent, 33 percent, and 31 percent, respectively – and chronic disease than the city as a whole. The plans include hiring and training up to 250 youths to work with The Food Project to build 400 backyard gardens in the three neighborhoods; transforming a vacant 10,000-square foot greenhouse in the heart of Roxbury into a community growing and education center; doubling the number of community plots in Dorchester, and expanding the Nightingale Garden in Dorchester by 65,000 square-feet so that stretches across 1.5 acres.
“The next two years will be an exciting time for Boston, as we join forces with our community partners to make real change happen in our city, both on reducing exposure to tobacco and fighting obesity," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, the agency that received the federal funding. "We are fortunate to have the strong, capable leadership of Mayor Menino and Secretary Sebelius supporting those efforts."
Besides the gardening initiatives, the $6.4 million obesity prevention grant will be used to:
- Decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages through counter-advertising and policy change
- Increase active transit through bike share programs and land-use policies
- Enhance the integration of high-quality and frequent physical activity and education into the school day
The $6.1 million tobacco reduction grant will be used to:
- Change attitudes toward smoking to reduce demand
- Enact regulatory and other policy changes that limit tobacco access, influence price, and increase the number of smoke-free environments
- Increase structural capacity to connect Boston residents to tailored tobacco-cessation services
- Create 1,000 smoke-free residences in Boston
The city’s progress on achieving the goals of the grants are being monitored by a high-level leadership team, headed by Mayor Menino and consisting of representatives from the public and private sector, whose institutions will likely play a critical role in the implementation of policy changes. The 20-member leadership team includes Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson; Dr. Gary Gottlieb, CEO of Partners Healthcare; Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University; Carol Fulp, vice president of community relations at John Hancock Financial Services; Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health; Dr. Paula Johnson, chair of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Board of Health; Thomas J. Tinlin, commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department, and John Palmieri, who heads the Boston Redevelopment Authority.