Resilience: Food Access in our Communities

Written by CETR Program Associate, Chelsea Lauder

For Community-Engaged Teaching and Research (CETR) at Northeastern, our Spring 2020 semester was interrupted, alongside the rest of the world, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted existing issues for food access and security in our Boston communities. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boston Food Access Council formed the Equitable Boston Food Ecosystem (EBFE) working group. The EBFE project was a collaborative effort across Boston community member and organizations directly or indirectly in the food security space. In addition to our Northeastern Office of City & Community Engagement, participating partners from our network included Maverick Landing Community Services, Action for Boston Community Development, The Greater Boston Food Bank, and the YMCA of Greater Boston.

In their executive summary, the EBFE group shares: “Covid-19 has confirmed what we have known for generations. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted and harmed by hunger and other social determinants of health.” The exacerbation of unequal food access and insecurity by COVID-19 since March of 2020 is no surprise and is what has necessitated, more than ever, critical collaborations across city government, community-based organizations, educational institutions, and community members. In thinking about the need for meaningful partnership and collaboration, however, the dictation of what change and support was necessary had to stem directly from community members most impacted by the pandemic.

Through recognizing that food access and security are a community-identified goal, many of our service-learning courses in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 focused either fully, or in part, on this topic. For example, students in Nutrition and Public Health, instructed by Kate Janisch, collaborated with Boston Center’s for Youth & Family’s Family Gym Program  to design nutrition- and healthfocused activities to support community health. Through the Explore Program for undeclared first year and transfer students at Northeastern, students had the opportunity to enroll in a seminar on Food Justice & Social Change, facilitated by our CETR Director, Becca Berkey. Through this course students developed lesson plans on food access, food production, and food waste for Citizen Schools. The students in this course delivered these workshops virtually and recorded them for future use. Faculty members in the World Language Center, Hua Dong, and English Program, Julia Garrett, worked with local food pantry and food distribution centers as their students learned about various topics of heath, food, and justice throughout the semester. These courses are just a sampling, but you can check out artifacts from these and others at our Service-Learning Virtual EXPO site.

A central tenet of our service-learning courses and their associated partnerships is to ensure that they are adaptive to community goals. At a time when relying on community support is more important than ever, stakeholders in our network have showcased flexibility in integrating community engagement into their teaching, learning, and organizational operations. Because flexibility and adaptability are key characteristics of resilience, it is our hope that in catalyzing and supporting these important partnerships that our communities become more equitable, in this case as evidenced in relation to food security.

You can read the full EBFE Report here, access a host of resources for promoting food security in your communities here, and we encourage you to think about the ways you can support food access and security in your own communities and/or get involved with these broader level advocacy opportunities.

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