In June a teenaged worker at the Everett Community Growers (ECG) farm bicycled down the Northern Strand Community Trail to deliver the first batch of produce – fresh greens – to the Bread of Life Food Pantry to help neighbors in need. ECG is a program of the Everett Community Health Partnership (ECHP) that works to improve health outcomes and increase civic engagement among Everett residents through urban agriculture and other food justice initiatives.
Started in 2012, ECG is “dedicated to growing community one garden at a time.” Membership is made up of residents and local organizational leaders committed to food justice. ECG runs three community gardens with raised beds cultivated by families for themselves. ECG also runs the Northern Strand Community Farm, which is located on the Northern Strand Community Trail; food from the farm is donated to local food pantries like Bread of Life (BOL).
Mayor Carlo DeMaria stated, “Through both City programs and the ECG’s work, progress has been made to start and continue community gardens and to promote healthy and affordable eating throughout our community. We must continue to ensure that all our residents are made aware of the availability of healthy, fresh, locally grown produce and also to educate the public about how they can join or participate in our urban farm or our community gardens.”
“Increasing the amount and variety of fresh produce available to low-income families and seniors is a high priority for us, especially as the senior population continues to increase in our society,” said BOL Deputy Director Gabriella Snyder Stelmack. “That’s why our collaboration with the ECG Community Farm is so important.”
According to the AARP Foundation, “seniors who are hungry are 50% more likely to have diabetes, 60% more likely to have congestive heart failure or a heart attack, and three times more likely to suffer from depression. Hunger costs older adults in the U.S. an estimated $130.5 billion annually in additional health care expenses. Diet-related diseases are estimated to cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion annually.”
BOL has been operating the Everett Food Pantry since 2008, serving about 1,400 Everett residents a year who find themselves struggling to make ends meet. The pantry, which is held every third and fourth Thursday on the ground floor of City Hall, is funded annually through the City of Everett’s Small Cities Grant with the support of Mayor Carlo DeMaria, the Everett City Council and the Everett Department of Planning & Development. Every family accessing the pantry once a month receives a nutritious food order averaging four bags (or 32 pounds) of groceries for a family of two, and six bags (or 48 pounds) of groceries for a family of four. Those served include families with children, senior citizens on fixed incomes, disabled residents, veterans and working people.
On June 16, ECG launched Everett’s first-ever Food Plan, presenting the results of a year-long Community Food Assessment through which food stores were surveyed and residents were interviewed to understand their perspectives on how to improve Everett’s retail food environment. The assessment also looked at school food, workforce and business opportunities in the food sector, and urban agriculture. ECG also announced funding for youth jobs at the farm from Exelon Generation.
ECG Coordinator Kathleen O’Brien said, “Exelon Generation’s support will allow us to fully realize our program to train a stellar youth team at the farm, and more deeply focus on offering positive, hands-on experiences through connecting with and learning about food, the environment and our community.”