Ithaca, NY is a foodie’s destination. The city is home to a large year-round farmers’ market, a diversity of renowned restaurants, and a wide selection of food retailers. Ithaca also is known for its commitment to social justice, so it is no surprise that the city boasts numerous resources to help more vulnerable members of the population access nutritious foods. However, local organizations that serve the city’s sizeable immigrant community noticed a gap in information available to international newcomers about these resources.
Supported by a small grant from the U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Alumni TIES program, this project focused on the creation of a guide that would help those new to Ithaca identify and mobilize available food resources. We conducted this work in collaboration with Ithaca Welcomes Refugees (IWR), a volunteer-led community initiative aimed at fostering a welcoming and fair environment for refugees and at-risk immigrants in the Ithaca area.
To maximize impact, we knew it was crucial that the guide reflect the needs and wants of immigrants and international newcomers in Ithaca. Therefore, we started our work with interviews, focus groups, and mapping workshops to understand the material, social, and cultural food-related assets that currently exist in the community and their utilization by our target population. Participants told us about the foods they can and cannot find locally, the networks and strategies they use to access culturally appropriate diets, and the types of information that they would find most helpful in their first days, weeks, and months in Ithaca.
Building from what we learned from this formative work, we collaborated with a local graphic designer at Sidekick Studios to develop the beta version of our guide in December 2017. Throughout the month of January, we held five feedback workshops with immigrants, other international newcomers, and ESL specialists to refine and enhance the content and the layout of the guide. As we progressed through the month, we created several updated versions. Production of the guide was therefore an iterative process, grounded in community participation and feedback.
Our final guide is 30 pages and includes sections on the following topics:
· Local vegetables and fruits by season;
· Places to buy food;
· Places to get free food;
· Resources available to support growing your own food;
· Getting more involved with the local food system through volunteering, cultural associations, and youth programming;
· Eating in a restaurant, including ordering, paying, and tipping;
· Local transportation options; and
· Other valuable information, such as measurement conversions and key vocabulary.
We launched the guide in at an event attended by over 80 people, most of whom were enrolled in the local adult ESL program. With the leadership of a professional caterer and the help of a group of IWR volunteers, we served a complete vegetarian buffet lunch for attendees. The menu included recipes from the Moosewood restaurant in downtown Ithaca, renowned for its best-selling cookbooks, as well as dishes from around the world.
Community interest and engagement in the project has been phenomenal. In addition to formal feedback from our target population and project partners, we benefited tremendously from input from the community. For example, the local bus system helped us develop a directory of bus routes and stops serving local grocery retailers, farmers’ markets, farm stands, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Other local organizations supported our work by providing photos and descriptions of their programming.
The guide already has received positive feedback from partners and community members:
”This food guide is incredibly comprehensive. It offers an A-Z view of food resources in our community and will assist newcomers with navigating the basics of food culture in the U.S. We are very grateful for all of the energy put in by the guide development team, as well as those who contributed to the guide by giving ideas on the most helpful information to include. They created a lasting, quality tool that will benefit refugee and immigrant families for many years to come!” — Board Chair, Ithaca Welcomes Refugees
“The food guide will provide such helpful information for the families at Global Roots Play School. Many of our families are new to Ithaca and having quick, culturally relevant information about where to source food will reduce a large stressor. The launch was such a nice celebration…Many families commented how nice it was to share a meal, and how delicious the meal was.”
— Director, Global Roots Play School
To date, we have disseminated over 300 copies of the guide locally. This year we plan to pursue opportunities to translate the guide to other languages relevant for the local immigrant community. In recent weeks, our project has been featured at a local food networking event and in a regional newspaper. This spring we plan to share more about our project at events hosted by an international service association and a regional dietetic association. We also look forward to producing a peer-reviewed journal publication so that others may benefit from and build on our experiences.