Feature Stories

Community Harvest

Partnership helps low income and immigrant populations connect with healthy food
  • UMass Amherst Professor Frank Mangan stands with two Community Partners holding ethinic crops in front of mural.

“Our overall focus is to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption of low income people and eventually have an impact on reducing high rates of obesity and diabetes.”

-Frank Mangan

In a new collaboration, UMass Amherst is helping to improve the health of low-income residents, including immigrant groups, in Worcester, Mass., by offering ethnic vegetables, recipes, and cooking demonstrations at health clinics. “Our philosophy for this project is to promote healthy and culturally appropriate eating,” says Frank Mangan ’86, ’91G, ’98PhD, extension professor at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The Stockbridge School is partnering with the UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program and Department of Nutrition in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and community organizations. The urban agriculture program is funded with a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, assisted in securing the grant. “This is exactly the kind of innovative, locally driven program we need,” says McGovern. “UMass continues to lead the way on the intersection of hunger and nutrition.”

Mangan (top left), who heads the World Crops program at UMass Amherst, and his team of researchers planted more than 20,000 seedlings at the UMass campus greenhouse such as cubanelle and ají dulce peppers, garden egg an eggplant that grows in Africa, and tomatillos, a staple in Mexican cuisine that is in the tomato family. Most of the starter plants were given to cooperating farms, including Community Harvest Project in North Grafton, Mass., which cultivates 23 acres mainly for the Worcester County Food Pantry, and the gardens at the Hector Reyes House, a residential program for recovering addicts in Worcester.

The crops from Community Harvest are distributed at health clinics used by people originally from Africa, Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Caribbean Islands. “Our overall focus is to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption of low income people and eventually have an impact on reducing high rates of obesity and diabetes,” explains Mangan. For example, the program has been promoting cooking with sofrito, a widely used seasoning by Latinos, made with six fresh ingredients. A store-bought jar of sofrito has 43 ingredients with high salt, fat, and sugar content. (See links to recipes below.)

The work with Community Harvest has another benefit—offering internship opportunities for UMass Amherst students. Both Adam Lyford and Jessica Morris, who graduated in May with majors in resource economics, are spending the summer interning at the North Grafton farm. Lyford is helping the farm with efficient water usage. For Morris, her work has helped her decide future efforts. “I now realize I want to focus my efforts going forward on hunger relief,” she says.

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