March Non-Profit: The Regional Environmental Council!

By Dani Babineau

Ever since we announced our Tipping for Charity program, our customers have been crushing it. Together, we raised more than $3,400 for the Trustees of Reservations in February!

For March, we are thrilled to announce our featured non-profit will be the Regional Environmental Council (REC)!

We are excited to work with REC because, as a company that produces and sells craft beer, it’s important that we are mindful of the impact we make on the environment around us. That includes not only the health of our natural environment, but also the health of the urban environment and those in our community.

We spoke with Ajayi Harris, REC’s Developmental Director, about their mission and why their work is so vital to the Worcester community. Read the interview below!

What’s the mission of REC and what does the organization do?

REC is a grassroots environmental and food justice organization located in Worcester, Mass. REC has been dedicated to building healthy, sustainable, and just communities in Worcester and beyond for more than 45 years.

Our members, staff, board and volunteers work together to accomplish this mission with three programs:

First, our Community Farms Market program stops in the most food-insecure neighborhoods in Worcester. We commit to creating access to healthy, affordable and local food to the families and individuals who need it most.

Second, YouthGROW (Youth Growing Organics in Worcester) is an urban-agriculture-focused youth development and employment program for low-income teens. The YouthGROW program employs 32-40 low-income high school teens (age 14-18) year-round, who gain leadership and jobs skills as they maintain two urban organic farms.

And third, UGROW (Urban Growing Resources Of Worcester) is a grassroots, city-wide community gardens network. We help create community food security by growing food in our own neighborhoods. Our network includes 60 community gardens throughout the city of Worcester involving more than 500 volunteer gardeners neighborhood-based gardens, school gardens, and urban farms.

Why is REC’s mission important to the Worcester area?

Our programs improve health by improving access to local farm products, helping local residents buy or safely grow their own food, and providing low-income teens with jobs that teach them urban farming, business development, and job/life skills and about the importance of growing and eating healthy foods. These programs help Worcester's most underserved communities to thrive and they also strengthen Worcester's vitality and the fabric of its civic life.

What has REC accomplished that you’re most proud of?

We saw a tremendous amount of growth across all of our programs in 2018 -- something we’re very proud of.

First, this year, we have a network of 60+ community and school gardens serving 2,000+ public school children and 700 volunteer gardeners connected through our UGROW program. The UGROW program also provides training, support and income-generating opportunities for 14 refugee families.

We were also able to hire 39 teens this year for our YouthGROW program -- our largest cohort yet!

Additionally, this year, we were thrilled to be able to add three more locations to our mobile and standing community farmers' markets. This means we currently serve 12,000 unique customers each year, six days each week, at 17 Worcester locations -- including senior living facilities, community health centers, and low-income housing developments.

Finally, in 2018, the 29th Annual REC Earth Day Cleanups brought together more than 1,200 volunteers who worked together as neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends to clean up 100 tons of trash from 80 sites across Worcester.

How might donations from Redemption Rock customers help REC in the future?

Donations will help provide access to healthy, local, and affordable food to those who need it most. It helps us coordinate more community gardens, increase college access, training opportunities, and support for our YouthGROWers, and support our Farmers Market program. We also advocate for local, state, and national policies that foster food, environmental, and social justice.  

Does REC have any upcoming events that people should know about?

Saturday, April 27 marks our 30th Annual Earth Day Cleanups. More than 1,000 volunteers come together to clean up 100 sites throughout the Worcester community. If you are interested in volunteering, sign up here:

 Saturday, May 18, from 9:30 am - 2 pm will be our 10th Annual REC Spring Garden Festival and Plant Sale in the Worcester Common Oval. Supporters can buy seedlings that will be available in many varieties for your own backyard garden while enjoying live performances, children’s activities, and much more! All purchases support the Regional Environmental Council.

 Additionally, this year's REC Community Farmers Market will begin in June.

 Find us on Facebook for updated information on everything we do!