It was hard to walk around Bushwick this year and not bump into a RiseBoro Farmers Market. Recently, these fun, colorful, and conveniently located markets started offering the neighborhood more than fresh food, cooking lessons, and community—they also became a site for an epic public survey RiseBoro is using to help understand and tackle the neighborhood’s infamous food and nutrition inequities.

The roots of the survey go back more than a year to the launch of RiseBoro’s Bushwick Cooks, which Program Manager Androniki Lagos describes as “a 360 degree approach to community food access, health and wellness.” Bushwick Cooks seeks to address Bushwick’s high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health concerns related to diet through a multitude of approaches, including farmers markets, nutrition education, and urban gardening programs. “We ask what the root causes are, and then how we can start to break down those barriers to better health,” Lagos says.

Now is a particularly important time to understand and act on community health concerns, says Lagos: “As Bushwick continues to change rapidly, with increasing development and skyrocketing rents, we want to make sure the neighborhood’s long-time residents are not left behind; that they have the resources they need and are supported on their own journeys to wellness and self-empowerment.”

There are lots of ways to gather information about what people eat and what health conditions they have, but Lagos says RiseBoro concluded that an in-depth, in-person survey—available in both English and Spanish—would yield the most comprehensive, instructive results. RiseBoro designed the survey collaboratively with input from their diverse staff, area residents, and other local groups including the Community Board 4 committee on health, the Bushwick Community Plan’s Community Health & Resources subcommittee, and members of Bushwick Food Cooperative, using participatory action research (PAR) methods. PAR centers around ongoing community engagement to both illuminate problems and engineer solutions, and it positions residents as leaders by focusing on their insights and recommendations. “We didn’t want one organization or predetermined goal driving the direction of the whole survey,” Lagos says. “A collaborative approach is what will make the outcomes truly of the community as well as for the community.”

Admittedly, the survey is long (most respondents take 15 or 20 minutes to complete it)—but the expression isn’t “taking a shallow dive,” now is it? The over-40 questions are split into four categories and ask people how many meals they usually eat per day, whether they have an operable kitchen at home, how long it takes them to get to a food market, whether they often eat alone, how long they’ve lived in Bushwick, and much more. Lagos also says that, unlike many such surveys, it covers assets as well as deficiencies, meaning what the neighborhood already has going for it, in addition to what it could benefit from. “Despite the length, many residents have been excited to engage on the topic of food access and the future of our community,” says Luciano Contreras, Community Engagement Specialist at RiseBoro and lead surveyor for the project.

While the survey is anonymous, anyone interested in discussions and future planning based on its results is invited to leave their contact info. “One really positive outcome of this survey will be if we can help people who are interested in local food and health issues to get involved and meet each other,” Lagos says. RiseBoro is aiming for 500 residents to take the survey, and then to create a neighbor-led Community Food Council to keep public input flowing into local food programming and policy decisions.

RiseBoro started surveying folks at the end of October, at their farmers markets as well as at youth and senior centers, affordable housing complexes, and even by going door to door. They’ll keep it up through early spring next year, and then will hold follow-up engagement and planning events in the summer. In fall 2018, they’ll publish their results and announce whatever new Bushwick Cooks programming has been devised based on what they’ve learned.

“This is Bushwick Cooks’ first survey, and we understand it’s ambitious!” Lagos says. “But we know there are needs here that aren’t being addressed, and we’re excited to learn more about what we can do together to make Bushwick a healthier place for everyone.”

Stop by the RB Farmers Market at Maria Hernandez Park the next two Saturdays (12/9 & 12/16) between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm if you want to peep the survey and say hi to the good folks of RiseBoro. If you’re interested in hosting a survey event, discussing the food situation in Bushwick with your neighbors, or just want to get updates about Bushwick Cooks, email [email protected].

All images by Sara Edwards for Bushwick Daily