Amidst the smell of freshly made sofrito, a historical moment was made, a green ribbon was cut, and the door leading to the rooftop greenhouse at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School (PACHS) was opened. An idea spawned eight (8) years ago from the minds of the leadership of the Juan Antonio
Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) and reignited by students of the high school five years ago, was finally made a reality on the evening of Thursday, March 3, where over 150 people gathered to share this special victory for the Humboldt Park community.
The evening included PACHS student-led presentations on topics ranging from health issues resulting from a diet insufficient of fresh fruits and vegetables, such as diabetes and obesity, to the ways students are engaged with urban agriculture through classroom curriculum at PACHS.
As part of the ribbon cutting ceremony a group of community leaders addressed the crowd including PACHS Principal Matthew Rodríguez, Executive Director of the PRCC José E. López, Youth Connection Charter Schools Board President Linda Hanah, Alderman Roberto Maldonado, State Representative Cynthia Soto and New Life Pastor Wilfredo De Jesús.
Carlos De Jesús, Director of the Urban Agriculture Program at PACHS, was another one of the speakers that evening. Earlier in the week De Jesus reflected on an earlier memory of the greenhouse journey.
“The idea of building a rooftop greenhouse at the high school was created five years ago, while I was teaching Science class. Humboldt Park was labeled as a food desert and my students began to think of some ways we can make our community healthier,” said De Jesús. “Then we realized that by building our own greenhouse, we could provide residents access to fresh foods.”
Many residents are unaware that the Humboldt Park community is labeled as a “food desert,” or an area that has little to no access to fresh foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. “This area was not always a food desert,” De Jesus noted. “When a majority of the population was white, there were local supermarkets, such as Jewels and Dominick’s, giving the community easy access to fresh foods. As the ethnicity of the population began to switch to more Latinos and Blacks those supermarkets moved out of the area,” said De Jesús.
The community has suffered from this lack of access to healthy foods. Humboldt Park has one of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the country. There are a number of solutions in progress that will help improve this crisis. For the past year The 72 Block Humboldt Park Diabetes Initiative has been edúcating residents about diabetes and how to live healthy life-styles. Another community program that is working to improve health issues in Humboldt Park is Muévete, which provides free physical activities such as yoga, bike-riding and Zumba.
The PACHS rooftop greenhouse is the first greenhouse in the community. With the support of local politicians such as Alderman Maldonado and State Representative Cynthia Soto, the scope of community sustainability in Humboldt Park will expand with the construction of 20 more rooftop greenhouses in the near future. In addition PACHS has been granted access to four-tenths of an acre (approximately 18,000 square feet) of land in Humboldt Park, next to the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, where plants that begin their development in the greenhouse will be transferred. Planting on this piece of land will begin April 25, said Carlos de Jesús.
The greenhouse opening at PACHS was part of a larger celebration of the anniversary of Juan Antonio Corretjer Puerto Rican Cultural Center. A reception held Thursday afternoon at Batey Urbano featured presentations on different programs of the PRCC including La Voz de Paseo Boricua, Vida/Sida, Batey Urbano, CO-OP Humboldt Park, Barrio Arts, Culture and Communications Academy (BACCA) and Humboldt Park No Se Vende.
Alexander Hernández and Marisol Rodríguez