Feeding the West Ward
A new program looks at healthy and affordable food in one Easton neighborhood.
Yvonne Tugya is like a one-woman version of the Easton Farmers Market.
Walking through the garden at her West Ward home Tuesday, she was full of energy as she talked about everything she grows there: a rainbow of lettuce and zucchinis, collard greens, cabbage, a big row of potatoes.
It's not all for her, of course. She estimates that she grows vegetables for 1,000 families, all from her little garden on Walnut Street.
"There's pretty much going to be a 10 pound bag of potatoes on everybody's door," Tugya said.
For a neighborhood where fresh vegetables aren't immediately on everyone's menu, Tugya is a godsend for community leaders working to keep families healthy.
That's a project these days in the West Ward, something known as the Easton Green Community Outreach, which is trying to determine whether the neighborhood -- which has some of the city's poorer residents -- has access to healthy and affordable food.
Tugya was one of the few residents at meeting Tuesday night at the Easton Area Community Center to discuss the issue; the Lafayette College students leading the project actually outnumbered members of the community.
The students are hoping to survey residents about where they get their groceries, how often they cook at home, and what restaurants they eat at. Eventually, they plan to build a website mapping restaurants in the city and explaining what they serve. They also want to host a series of food tastings to educate West Ward children on different types of produce.
Mostly, the students just listened. Esther Guzman, who heads the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership, gave them suggestions on how to reach out to residents. Althea Ruffin, owner of La Pazza Bar, lamented the fact that "nobody cooks anymore," which could be an obstacle in getting people to eat healthier.
It's an issue for people in the neighborhood, said Anita Mitchell, executive director of the community center, to the point that the center now gives kids dinner before they go home, to ensure that they eat a healthy meal.
If it's happening with the children, it's a safe bet that it's happening for their whole family, she said. She praised Tugya's work, and wished other people would follow suit.
"Just think what we could do with a few more," Mitchell said.
Tugya's happy to be a source of education in her neighborhood, a section of Walnut Street about two blocks from the courthouse.
"Kids come," she said, and they bring questions. "'What is this? What is that?' I walk them through, I cut off a piece of lettuce, I let them taste it."
She grows things by request. A guy came by one day, asked if she grew cilantro. She didn't. He was hoping she'd have some. Now she does, green and fragrant.
The way she describes some plants gives them an almost mythic quality: eggplants that "melt in your mouth like sugar," carrots the size of saxophones.
"You can make a carrot soup out of one carrot," she said.
Then there's the peach tree, ready to bloom. The kids keep asking about it, she says. July, she tells them.
For now, the tree's fruit is green and hard, with just the promise of color ready to bloom.