RN José Maciel, Teaching Mushroom Farmworkers about Nutrition
School of Penn Nursing and Nutrition Graduate José Maciel is bringing healthy eating to mushroom farmworkers in Kennett Square, many of whom are Latino, with his non-profit Cultivando Juntos.
For José Maciel, a community nurse, preventive medicine is crucial to a healthy life and is important to his Latino community.
That’s why he co-founded the non-profit Cultivando Juntos, or “Cultivating Together” with Antonio Renteria in 2019, during his final year at the University of Pennsylvania. The pair were awarded the 2019 President’s Engagement Prize, a $100,000 award for their project.
Maciel said about his work, “As a community nurse I have been working with people to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and work to further preventive medicine through healthy eating in the workplace.”
Cultivando Juntos started as a 13-week program aimed at improving the health and well-being of mushroom farmworkers in Kennett Square, many of whom are Latino. Maciel and his co-founder taught them about proper nutrition and how to cook simple meals like a mushroom taco.
For Maciel, the idea for the project came in part from his own family’s farming experience. Maciel grew up in Washington state. During his summers in high school, he worked in the food packing industry, packaging apples and cherries, alongside his aunts and uncles. Through working there, he noticed that people often had few hours to care about their health.
When Maciel was in college, his parents passed away. First, his mother passed away from cancer and later his father from heart disease, which he knew was due to a lack of proper nutrition.
“I knew that my father's situation was not unique where many Latinos probably don't know how to cook for themselves in a healthy way, in a sustainable way and that was what inspired me to bring a new way of nutrition for the Latino community I felt really close to, that I feel really close to.”
Maciel feels that through his work, he has been able to educate farmworkers about food, but also create connections.
“We have created a nice sense of community there at the farm. There were always a lot of smiles when we would come in with our food and share our food.”
Ultimately, after the pilot program, Maciel and his co-founder learned that while the farmworkers enjoyed learning how to cook, they simply didn’t have the time, on top of working up to 65 hours a week. For that reason, Maciel shifted the project’s focus and is now working on setting up a kitchen that will provide pay-what-you-wish bulk meals to the mushroom farm workers.
As Maciel said, “Putting the healthy food already made into someone's hands for them to try first, then inspire them to try and make it themselves at home is what we are trying to do next.”
Additionally, Cultivando Juntos will be creating videos about nutrition which Maciel said will be “entertaining, captivating and educational.” This is especially important because not all of the farmworkers know how to read.
His goal for Cultivando Juntos is to expand their mission of healthy meals and nutrition education to other parts of the country beyond Kennett, to “make people feel good at farm workplaces.”