Hungry for Health, English Language Learners Meet with Mayor Curtatone

Hungry for Better Health, English Language Learners Meet with Mayor Curtatone

Mayor Curtatone meets with Welcome Project ESOL students on December 13, 2011.On December 13, twelve adult English Language Learners from a Welcome Project English class sat down with Mayor Curtatone and the Shape Up Somerville staff to talk about some of the barriers immigrant families face to healthy food and physical activity, and offer some of their solutions.

During the previous weeks, students had had learned vocabulary and engaged in discussion about what changes in the local environment would make it more possible for them to live healthier lives in the city. In their presentation to the Mayor, they focused on the issues they agreed as a class were most important to them.

"We need to have fresh fruit and vegetables that are not expensive, like in some supermarkets," Tanka, from Nepal, told the Mayor. "We need affordable food near the Rite Aid [the abandoned Star Market] on Broadway."

Judith, who came here from Brazil seven years ago, spoke about how hard it is to get to the Market Basket in Union Square if you do not own a car.  "We need a bus to go from Mystic Ave. to Union Square."

"We need new sidewalks and crosswalks between Mystic Avenue and the Stop and Shop," said Winter, who came to Somerville from Haiti two years ago. "It's very dangerous because we don't have sidewalks and a good lighting".

Jaques, who has lived here for 18 years after emigrating from Haiti, told the the Mayor that he liked the Mystic Mobile Market that sold fresh fruits and vegetables at the Mystic as a pilot this summer. "We need a farmers' market at the Mystic so we can get fresh food at the Mystic in the summer and in the winter."

Mayor Curtatone answered their concerns with explanations and commitments.

"Everything you told me today, we hear you, they are very important and we agree."

The Mayor agreed with the proposals the students asked him to consider.The Mayor offered an explanation of how decisions made years ago have made it harder to access healthy food or to get exercise.

"Many years ago, we used to have trains and trolleys, and it was easy to take a train or trolley or walk to a market in your neighborhood," Curtatone said. "What leaders in the state and federal governemnt did is they took away the trains and trolleys and built the highway. Now there is more traffic and more cars and it is more dangerous to go across McGrath highway."

"They call this a food desert," the Mayor said. "You are in a desert because you don't have access to fresh and healthy food. In Somerville our desert is not because things are far way but because there are these barriers: the highways and the cars blocked your ability to get food."

The Mayor then addressed the specific concerns the students had raised.

About the Star Market on Broadway. "We know we must have a market there so that you can buy good and wholesome nutritious food at affordable prices and not have to walk to Stop and Shop. There must be a food market in that area for your quality of life.

"With the buses, there are many bus routes in the city, but they go east to west, not north/south. I may not have control of the buses, but I have a responsibility to fight for you."

The Mayor's office and Shape Up Somerville staff agreed to look into the requests the residents requested. These adult learners are looking forward to working with the city to make improvements that will help make it easier to live healthfully in Somerville.