Everett (MA) is reimagining a Community Food System for all with a PhotoVoice component

Emily Nink

Everett is the 6th most densely populated city in MA, and was recently named the most diverse. It is also an area of environmental injustice as defined by the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Geospatial data reveals that the city is dominated by convenience food, which some community food security researchers refer to as a "food swamp." The city is devoid of grocery stores and other options for fresh, healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food, while unhealthy food is accessible, affordable, and abundant. Due to these factors, Everett Community Growers (ECG) is committed to ensuring that residents, especially those historically left out of decision-making, have the barriers removed to be change agents in our community, starting with the food system.

Over the past year, the ECG advisory board (which includes diverse sectors such as businesses, schools, and ECG growers) worked with a project team to complete a Community Food Assessment (CFA) and write the City's first-ever Community Food Plan

Through the CFA, food stores were surveyed and residents were interviewed to understand their perspectives on how to improve the City's food retail environment. The assessment also looked at school food, workforce and business opportunities in the food sector, and urban agriculture. Further, advisory board members acted as community photojournalists in order to creatively record and reflect on community strengths and concerns, engage in critical dialogue surrounding food system's issues, and reach decision-makers. This 'PhotoVoice' component of the CFA resulted in a photo exhibition at the launch event for the food plan and will include a traveling photo exhibit over the next year. 

ECG programs and communications are multilingual, and racial diversity and cultural heritage are highlighted by storytelling projects allowing community members to define the goals of the group in their own words. Previous storytelling projects have included interviews with the growers that were integrated into an online story map, and a video project completed in 2015.

Most recently, the group added the PhotoVoice component to the CFA in order to ground it in health equity and racial equity framework. Through this project, ECG brought in a local photographer/journalist to train the Advisory Board members and are using the SHOWED method to discuss the photos in order to inform the CFA program and policy recommendations. The group hosted a public-facing photo contest to more broadly engage those who live and work in Everett in a celebration of Everett’s food culture (see www.facebook.com/Everettfood). In addition, by piggybacking on existing community events and utilizing parner networks, ECG increases organizational capacity and “go to where the people are.” For instance, the annual Earth Day cleanup at the community garden piggybacks on an existing City-sponsored event along the Northern Strand Community Trail, in order to make use of volunteers recruited by the City. In addition to utilizing established community channels (including churches, community centers, and the farmers’ market) for communications, ECG reaches residents through social networks (online and word-of-mouth) to advertise events.

Next, ECG plans to pursue the development of a Food Policy Council in Everett to lead implementation of the recommendations included in the Community Food Plan. Many cities have food policy councils so that diverse stakeholders and representatives can participate in food policy and planning. While the PhotoVoice component of the CFA was vital in elevating community voices to determine program and policy recommendations, it will be equally important to include residents and stakeholders throughout the long-term implementation process. 

To learn more about Everett Community Growers, visit the group's profile.
To learn more about PhotoVoice and Cultural Competence, visit this site.

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