What does jicama, a delicious crunchy vegetable that plays a key role in Hispanic cuisine, have to do with well-being? It’s kind of a cool story.
But before we talk about jicama, we need to talk about social connectedness. Connectedness is a hot topic in our world, because research repeatedly demonstrates a strong connection between well-being and social support. And, our 2021 Brown County Health and Well-being Survey found that residents in Brown County actually scored the lowest in the Social Relationships domain. While this is not terribly surprising - we did just live through a global pandemic that upended many of our social connections - it’s not something to be taken lightly, either. Social relationships need care and feeding today more than ever.
But how? When you really step back and look at it, social connection isn’t something that we “do,” it’s the end result of situations where we’re interacting with others. More importantly, it’s not just proximity to others that creates connection. Rather social connection arises when we enter social spaces with kindness, curiosity and a desire to engage. It’s when we ask questions, grow and learn together.
So back to jicama. Over the last few years Wello has been working with Casa ALBA Melanie, We All Rise: African American Resource Center and local food hub Seasonal Harvest, to provide fresh locally-sourced produce to their clients. The produce, all of which is sustainably grown within a 70 mile radius of Green Bay, is of the highest quality because it’s picked just days - and sometimes hours - before delivery. This produce program is a win/win for the community, creating healthy food access to those who struggle to afford fresh produce, as well as for the local farmers who are able to grow at scale for this project.
But the project has also created another win/win: an authentic relationship. A few months into the project, the farmers began asking what kinds of vegetables they could grow to meet not just the nutritional needs of recipients but also their cultural needs. As trust and familiarity increased over time, clients at Casa asked for - you guessed it - jicama. Brown County farmers did a little research and realized that jicama can grow in our region and for the first time this delicious, nutritious crop is going to be grown for market. This project, which began as a food relief effort, has grown into a conversation where everyone benefits. For Wello, this small shift towards authentic connection - the jicama effect if you will - demonstrates how small projects actually build a deeper trust that will help solve big challenges.
In fact, this micro approach to the macro work of growing well-being is at the core of our work at Wello. But the most challenging thing about the jicama effect is that you can’t set out to create it and you don’t know where you’ll find it because it is organic and spontaneous in nature. So you keep doing the work with kindness and curiosity, trusting in the outcome.
This story can also be found as our April 2022 Green Bay Press Gazette column.