(l to r) José Maciel and Antonio Renteria
An Interview with the Co-Founders of Cultivando Juntos
In 2019, José Maciel and Antonio Renteria were awarded a University of Pennsylvania (Penn) President’s Engagement Prize for Cultivando Juntos, a community-based program to improve the health habits of the Latino mushroom workers in Kennett Square, PA.
As 2019 graduates of Penn Nursing, both Antonio and José are former Independence Blue Cross Foundation (Foundation) nurse interns. During their internships, Antonio worked at Mary Howard Health Center, a community site that provides primary care services for the homeless population. José worked at Puentes de Salud, a volunteer-run community clinic serving the growing Latino population of Philadelphia.
We recently interviewed José and Antonio to find out what inspired them to create Cultivando Juntos.
Foundation: What did you learn during your Foundation Nursing Internship?
Maciel: As part of our Independence Blue Cross Foundation Nursing Internship, we were assigned to local community health centers to gain practical clinical experience. I worked at Puentes de Salud, where I learned about the increasing rates of nutrition-related diseases in the Latino community.
Renteria: I worked at Mary Howard Health Center, where I learned how to work with social workers to address the social determinants of health for the community. I often assisted visitors, washed patients’ feet, and helped individuals find their way around the city.
Foundation: What is the President’s Engagement Prize?
Maciel and Renteria: Penn’s President’s Engagement Prize is a $100,000 grant awarded by Dr. Amy Gutmann to Penn seniors with an idea to make an impact in the community.
Foundation: Tell us about your project, Cultivando Juntos.
Maciel and Renteria: We pitched Cultivando Juntos, an evidence-based wellness program for Latino farmworkers at their workplace. By arming farmworkers with healthy foods and supportive knowledge on a week-by-week basis, Cultivando Juntos aims to improve participants’ blood sugars, lipid panels, blood pressures, weights, measures of nutrition, sleep quality, and physical and emotional well-being.
Our three-month program currently consists of 12 sessions, each involving a recipe, a brief health message, a health challenge, and a weekly question for the community. The project is currently in its early phase as a pilot study at a partnered farm that will end in March 2020. Our goal is to refine our program to fit the needs of participants through pilot programs like this one until we can hand it down to community members trained to lead the program at other workplaces.
Foundation: Why the specific focus on the health and well-being of mushroom farm workers in Kennett Square?
Maciel and Renteria: Though we were initially interested in partnering with Philadelphia’s restaurant businesses, it was our mentor, Dr. Adriana Perez, who told us about the active Latino community she works with in Kennett Square, PA. Less than an hour away from the city, we met farmworkers, farm administrators, and clinicians to see the work they did in “the mushroom capital of the world.” We met like-minded community stakeholders who were interested in partnering with us, and we have not looked back since.
In Kennett Square, like in many other farm-working communities, workers often live below the federal poverty line despite working 60-plus-hour work weeks. Part of this is because one paycheck typically supports multiple people. Along with that, farmworkers deal with many other challenges such as limited transportation, language barriers, no additional overtime pay, limited access to healthy foods and living spaces, and unhealthy workplace cultures. What is unique about Kennett Square is that the mushroom harvest exists year-round, as the produce is grown in temperature-controlled units through the seasons.
Latino migrants are smart, passionate, hardworking people. We are both products of farm-working families ourselves, and we know that the people we work with at the farm are resilient and adaptable to change. We want to show employers the difference we can make in farmworkers’ lives if we begin to reinvest in their needs, beginning with providing weekly healthy food packages at the workplace.
Foundation: Why did you decide to work together on this project?
Maciel and Renteria: As close colleagues and friends, we developed interests in nutrition and the social determinants of health together through our University years and summers. We often found ourselves working well together at the same internships and academic settings. Personally, we related well through our experiences growing up in Latino households as Mexican-Americans.
Foundation: How did the Nursing Internship Program influence the development of Cultivando Juntos and your decision to apply for the President’s Engagement Prize?
Maciel and Renteria: The Foundation’s Nursing Internship Program was the catalyst for us to apply for the Prize. Working in limited-resource environments and caring for the underserved population, we understood that there was more work to be done for our communities. Seeing many of our patients return with complications related to nutrition-related diseases, we set out to improve care outside the clinic walls.
The nurses at the respective clinics that we worked at inspired us with their dynamic ability to manage a variety of tasks for their patients. We sought to bring their energy to our organization, always looking to how to make the most out of the least amount of resources.
Lastly, the Foundation’s Nursing Internship leadership experiences reminded us of our limitless capacities as the next generation of nurse leaders. As healthy, optimistic, new community nurses, we seek to improve the health of Latino farm-working families, who in turn will produce the next generation of Americans.