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Growing Roots Program Seeks to Improve Fresh Food Access and Education in City Communities

As part of our commitment to making sustainable living commonplace, Unilever works around the world every day to support programs that align with this mission – and importantly, we also do this in our own backyard, supporting the communities closest to us.

Growing Roots logo

One of the greatest challenges facing American cities today is that poor diets, driven by a lack of access to fresh food and education on how to cook with it, can lead to adverse health outcomes. For instance, though only blocks apart, East Harlem and the Upper East Side of Manhattan have deeply different community health profiles: the levels of obesity and diabetes in East Harlem are both three times that of the Upper East Side.

As a food company with iconic brands like Hellmann’s, Knorr, Country Crock, and Lipton, Unilever can play a role and so launched Growing Roots: a program designed to improve access to fresh food and education on how to cook with it in low income neighborhoods of American cities.

Growing Roots NYC

In December 2015, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a multi-million dollar, private-public partnership called Building Healthy Communities, which is committed to taking an innovative, holistic approach to improving health outcomes in 12 historically underserved neighborhoods. Building Healthy Communities is focused on three main goals: increasing access to healthy food, increasing opportunities for physical activity and promoting public safety.

Building Healthy Communities was a natural fit for Unilever’s Growing Roots program to get involved with, as our North American headquarters are located right across the Hudson River in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Therefore, NYC became the site of the first major Growing Roots project, and Growing Roots NYC was born.  Unilever has committed $4.1 million to the effort– the most significant commitment from an individual corporate entity in New York City history – in order to support six urban farms in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, unlocking convenient and affordable access to fresh vegetables and –  paired with community cooking classes –  providing education about healthy and affordable home cooking.

To improve access, each urban farm will produce thousands of pounds of vegetables selected by community members and distribute free fresh produce to residents once harvested. Manhattan’s first urban farm of this kind will be built at an East Harlem NYCHA development and managed by Green City Force Corps Members, young adult NYCHA residents engaged in a unique service training program. The farm will also benefit from the contributions of volunteers (including community residents and Unilever employees).  Unilever will also provide recipes that educate residents on how to use the free produce they’re getting in simple and delicious ways.

To improve education, Unilever will work with existing community-based programs to develop intergenerational cooking classes with NYCHA residents and community chefs, aiming to empower local residents to build stronger, more connected communities through food.

The mission of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is to help 1 billion people improve their health and wellbeing by 2020.  The major commitment Unilever has made to the city of New York with Growing Roots NYC represents a broader commitment to improve access and education around fresh food across the U.S.  Soon, Growing Roots will go beyond NYC to a city near you.

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