‘Once kids know how to grow something, they will eat it’: Education emphasized at healthy food workshop in Holyoke

MassLive, August 15, 2017, by Mike Plaisance

HOLYOKE — Teaching children how to grow food and providing education to establish new restaurants and chefs are ways to improve Holyoke’s access to healthy food, participants in a workshop said Tuesday.

“Once kids know how to grow something, they will eat it,” said Neftali Duran of Nuestras Raices, at the “Local Food, Local Places Workshop.”

The workshop drew about 50 people to the Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center at 206 Maple St. It is part of a two-day effort led by federal agencies aimed at identifying issues and determining how to strengthen the local food system.

A report with recommendations on how to make improvements will be published online in three to four months, said Melissa G. Kramer, of the federal Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.

“We hope to create an action plan for a resilient community in which we are building a resilient food system in the city of Holyoke and Springfield that takes care of a lot of the issues that we face,” said Duran said, a chef and teacher with Nuestras Raices.

Nuestras Raices seeks to promote economic, human and community development in Holyoke through projects relating to food, agriculture and the environment. The organization began in 1992 in South Holyoke.

Holyoke is one of 125 communities that applied to the EPA to participate in the “Local Food, Local Places Workshop” and drafting of a report and one of 24 that were accepted, said Holly Fowler, co-founder and CEO of Northbound Ventures of Somerville, a consultant, who led the workshop.

The goal of the workshop is to determine ways to use the community’s “food system” to strengthen downtown, help farmers, improve the environment and give healthy-living options to people, she said.

Fowler used slides on big screens to identify workshop goals:

  • establish methods for ongoing coordination of food-related activities in Holyoke
  • improve healthy food access in Holyoke
  • increase production of food in the city
  • increase opportunities for farmers and food businesses to market their products
  • make downtown Holyoke a place where people want to live, eat and visit.

Several speakers noted the potential of Holyoke to succeed and achieve a renaissance and the cultural pride exhibited by its residents of different backgrounds.

That prompted Gloria Caballero, a Cuban native and Holyoke resident, to urge the gathering to avoid getting swayed by such lofty thoughts in the face of gritty daily struggles people face.

“Please do not romanticize an issue that is really harsh,” Caballero said.

In addition to the EPA, federal agencies involved in the workshop were the Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Also participating were representatives of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Holyoke Community College and state, city and nonprofit agencies such as Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

Fowler asked the crowd to list their thoughts about downtown Holyoke and Kramer wrote the ideas on white paper sheets:

  • real opportunities to fulfill basic human needs
  • misunderstood and under-represented
  • opportunity for affordable dining options
  • full of history, beauty
  • can be destination and vibrant place to live
  • full of exciting community initiatives
  • need safe streets
  • opportunity for community engagement
  • on the rise
  • lack access to jobs, job training
  • needs improvement but endless opportunity
  • economic instability