Boston group turns to farms to fight fat problem
LINCOLN, Mass. |
LINCOLN, Mass. (Reuters) - In a country where a majority of the adult population is classified as overweight or obese, it is hard to imagine that access to food is a problem.
But experts contend that is one of the problems facing America's inner cities -- where fast-food restaurants are plentiful but fresh fruits and vegetables are harder to find.
One group is working to change that on a 31 acre (12.5 hectare) organic farm about 18 miles outside Boston.
"I used to eat a lot of fast food and now I try not to," said Kadeem Herry, 17, of Roslindale, Mass.
"I might sneak in a burger now and then, but I eat more vegetables."
Herry spoke as he finished a morning of harvesting at the Food Project, a Boston-area nonprofit group that runs the farm in Lincoln -- a mile from Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau's 19th century paean to simpler times.
Each year the group sells about 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms) of fresh produce at a farm stand in Dorchester, one of Boston's poorer inner-city neighborhoods.
"When you talk about urban deserts where there just aren't grocery stores around, so people don't have access to ... healthy food, we are an option for people who want that," said Jen James, the group's associate director.
"One of our goals is to increase the amount of healthy food in Boston," he added.
The bulk of the group's labor force is a squad of about 60 teenage workers. Drawn from the inner city and its suburbs, they spend their summer tending the group's crop of lettuce, tomatoes and more exotic vegetables like kohlrabi, a member of the cabbage family.
About 66 percent of U.S. adults are classified as overweight or obese, according to U.S. government data. With obesity rates rising -- and driving up health costs -- experts said increasing the availability of fresh produce can help.
"To the extent that you can make fruits and vegetables easier to get and more appealing, which often farm stand food is, and priced competitively with the junk food that is more caloric and not good for you, then you can certainly start to shift people's taste and ultimately ... how many calories they take in," said Jean Wiecha, senior research scientist at Harvard University's School of Public Health.
Several of the program's youthful participants said the program had shifted their views on food.
"It's definitely changed me, it's made me more active," said Rebeca Ramirez, 16, of South Boston. "It's changed my eating habits. I didn't really eat vegetables."
At the group's farmer's market in Dorchester one recent afternoon, a steady crowd of shoppers strolled through buying greens, melons and other fresh produce. Many paid with vouchers from U.S. governmental programs for low-income families.
"There's nothing like this around here. We used to go over to the Haymarket to get food this fresh," said Dominique Bellegarde, 27, referring to a century-old farmer's market 3 miles away in downtown Boston.
"We need the natural food," she added.
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