City-Based Farming to Grow Healthy Communities

Unilever's Growing Roots

1. No Poverty 3. Good Health and Well-Being 4. Quality Education 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Overview

Unilever adheres to the “Unilever Sustainable Living Plan” which has three goals: improving health and well-being for more than 1 billion people; reducing its environmental impact by half; and enhancing livelihoods for millions, targeting the social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain. In 2017, Unilever Sustainable Living brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business and delivered 70% of its turnover growth. As part of their journey towards increasing their positive social impact, Unilever launched Growing Roots, an organic, plant-based snack brand with a social mission that employees were passionate about, born from the belief that everyone should have access to affordable, nutritious food. Unilever's Growing Roots program aims to support urban farming across the U.S. This program grew to include sustainable farming with 50% of profits invested back into the program, which helps the program continue to grow and help the locals and the economy. Together with their partners, the mission is to provide underserved communities with access to fresh food.

The Growing Roots innovative organization is closely aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals #1, #3, #4 and #11 which are focused on no poverty, good health and well being, quality education and sustainable cities and communities.

Authors

Melissa Balram

Melissa Balram

ADEWALE ALAO

ADEWALE ALAO

Arushi Dharia

Arushi Dharia

YIHANG SONG

YIHANG SONG

Meng-Chu Chien

Meng-Chu Chien

School

Rutgers Business School

Rutgers Business School

Professor

Loubna Erraji

Loubna Erraji

Innovation

Growing Roots operates with the philosophy that healthy food is essential. This New York-based company is on a mission to preach the value of fresh food, educate people about growing their own healthy food and provide nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables to communities that lack access to it. Nearly 80% of health issues can be reduced by eating healthier food. Annually, companies are spending close to $15,000 per employee on health benefits. Growing Roots is changing the way people think about their food, having those in underserved communities cook from home instead of buying processed food from outside. They are doing this in partnership with Green City Force in New York City to help increase access to fresh food in these underserved communities.

When people grow their own food, they tend to cook more from home, eat healthier and buy less from outside. It is a way to increase fresh produce usage by the underserved neighborhoods while providing useful information about how food is grown as well as healthy eating. Growing Roots help foundations, government agencies and non-profit organizations fund urban farming and food education in underserved communities.

City-Based Farming to Grow Healthy Communities

Inspiration

Low income communities in American cities are often “food swamps,” where grocery stores that carry fresh produce compete far more with fast food restaurants and bodegas that don't offer fresh nutritious options. This poor access to fresh food and lack of education on how to cook can contribute to worsening health conditions. For example, East Harlem has more cases of diabetes and obesity compared with the nearby Upper East Side. Two years ago, Unilever formed a partnership with New York City’s “Building Healthy Communities” initiative and Green City Force to create urban farms in six underserved neighborhoods. They decided to create a sustainable funding mechanism after understanding which practices were successful. They saw a positive transformation that those farms had on the community. The engagement with food and nutrition increased, leading to more people going to the grocery store and purchasing more vegetables, and ultimately, cooking food at home more.

The vision that inspired Growing Roots was Unilever’s commitment to urban farming partnerships. They wanted to help increase access to fresh food for underserved communities. Tracy Shepard-Rashkin, Growing Roots founder and brand manager, wanted to find a way to create an available organization to support this work. “The idea to innovate and create this program is that we could control our own budget and find more time to help support more urban farming organizations and then build more farms,” she explained. Shepard-Rashkin believes that healthy food is essential and should be made from real and organic ingredients. She also believes in giving back to make sure local communities have access to fresh food. As a result, they donate 50% of profit to support urban farming.

Overall impact

Growing Roots has made a positive impact on sustainability at a societal and economic level by raising awareness of and access to sustainable nutrition in low income urban areas across the U.S. .A quantitative door to door study done in one of the Growing Roots programs revealed that after the farm was built, it increased vegetable consumption and purchase, cooking at home, and overall satisfaction with nutrition and diet.

Business benefit

The Growing Roots brand also wanted to create snacks to promote healthy eating. As a result, they created a product line of snack bites and clusters made from organic, plant-based, gluten-free ingredients, directing 50% of its profits from the product line to urban farming initiatives. The Growing Roots brand allows Unilever to build a sustainable model for long-term community impact. Shepard-Rashkin hopes that "in the long term, more companies can create brands with a social mission at heart that can contribute to society in a meaningful way.”

Social and environmental benefit

The Growing Roots program has made a tremendous impact on the communities where it operates. The program uses the experience of growing, sharing and eating fresh food to transform the health and happiness of the underserved communities. In 2015, Unilever joined a public-private partnership with New York City’s "Building Healthy Communities" initiative and Green City Force to create six urban farms in New York, which have already generated approximately 32,000 pounds of organic produce. These foods are provided for free to all public housing residents in the communities. Through education and training, Growing Roots gives community members access to the tools they need to sustain the gardens and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Being able to turn an empty, ugly concrete lot into a beautiful green space and farm has had a positive impact on the community. Residents feel safer and the presence of the farm makes them feel more invested in their neighborhood. Shepard-Rashkin perfectly describes Growing Roots as providing an “Ecosystem of Benefits.” One example is Green City Force which partners with Growing Roots by hiring young adults ages 18-24 who are living in public housing, taking them out of poverty and training them in the green economy; teaching them skills in agriculture and then helping them get a job after their service. As a result, over 60 green economy jobs have been created on the farm.

In addition to the company providing funds, Unilever employees volunteer thousands of hours each year to these efforts. Based on the program’s community impact in New York, Unilever has extended its outreach to Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Chicago.

Interview

Tracy Shepard-Rashkin, Growing Roots Found and Brand Manager at Unilever

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Unilever's Growing Roots

Unilever's Growing Roots

New York City, NY, US

Business Website: https://www.growingrootsfoods.com/mission/

Year Founded: 2015

Number of Employees: 5001 to 10000

Unilever is a large British-Dutch organization founded in 1929 and headquartered in Europe. It makes consumer goods such as food, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products for over 2.5 billion consumers worldwide, including brands such as Axe, Dove, Hellmann’s, Magnum, Degree, and Ben & Jerry’s. Unilever is committed to sustainability and has various brands, programs, and initiatives dedicated to that goal.