Healthy, Local, and Accessible to All
Tisch College supports graduate students' efforts to improve food security and nutrition in local communities.
Apples, carrots, rutabaga, eggs. Spinach, radishes, onions, herbs. Endive, squashes, mushrooms, meats. Pastries, cakes, apple cider doughnuts. If there were any doubts about the bona fides of the Somerville Winter Farmers’ Market, the apple-cider doughnuts lay them to rest.
“Winter markets are still unique, and Somerville’s was one of the first,” said Douglas Kress, AG13, leader of a group of graduate students working to increase access to healthy, locally grown food. Supported by Tisch College’s Civic Engagement Fund, Kress, Denise Chin, N14, Alison Cross, N12, and Adrianne Schaefer, AG13, are focusing on senior citizens and low-income families. The Civic Engagement Fund gives graduate students opportunities to implement projects that provide value to the community and build their own skills as active citizens in service, research, and public policy.
“Farmers’ markets generally can be challenging for people living on a fixed income,” Kress explained. “We’ve been working with the Somerville Winter Market and the Somerville Health Department’s Shape Up Somerville program, which is matching food assistance spending up to $10 per visit. It makes it just a little more affordable, and already the response has been greater than anticipated.”
To make the market more family friendly, there are kid-focused activities like face-painting, and craft projects like potato stamping, which Kress’ team helps provide materials for. While these efforts have been well received, access remains a problem for seniors.
“Isolation becomes a big problem for people as they age, especially in the winter,” said Kress. “A goal of this project is to improve the social component, and help people engage with and be in the community. We’re working with the Somerville Council on Aging, putting posters up at senior centers, adding information to newsletters, and trying to be more creative to do more outreach.”
Another concern is that many residents are unfamiliar with using root vegetables, a staple of the winter farming season. Kress and his team are looking for a safe-serve certified kitchen, where they can conduct cooking classes that would teach useful recipes in a friendly, social atmosphere. Friedman School of Nutrition students Chin and Cross are working on developing nutritious recipes to share.
Kress came into the project with long experience in grass-roots community development. A native Minnesotan, he worked as the chief of staff for a member of the Minneapolis City Council. Seeking a fuller understanding of municipal public policy, he was awarded a Leadership Fellowship from the Archibald Bush Foundation which brought him to Tufts and the masters of public policy program in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.
“It’s an amazing fellowship,” said Kress. “Not only does it include studying at Tufts, but I’ve been able to experience public policy in Boston, Somerville, and Provincetown on various issues including food and health issues. That’s such a great diversity of places – big city, residential, and tourist area – and the demographics and politics are broadly similar to Minneapolis and the surrounding communities. I have high hopes of applying the lessons I learn in my future positions.”
Kress recently began a position in the office of the Mayor of Somerville, working on special projects like the burgeoning food truck program, ADA compliance, Inspectional Services, Urban Agriculture, and of course farmers’ markets, all areas he says are ripe for innovation. He’s been deeply impressed with the active citizenship at Tufts and its host communities.
“I really believe in community involvement and engagement, so many different people working together to build something with real results like the winter farmers’ market, and what I hope is our contribution to it,” said Kress. “That’s what led me to pursue public service in the first place.”