By Natalie Obermeyer
Maura Beaufait graduated from Tufts in 2009 with a MPH and MS from the Agriculture, Food, and Environment Program. She is now the community health specialist for healthy food access at the Bowdoin Street Health Center located in Dorchester, MA. The center serves an area where 25% of the residents live below the poverty level and another 25% are among the working poor. A lack of public transportation in the area makes accessing healthy food especially challenging, and high crime rates isolate residents inside, decreasing their physical activity. However, Maura is helping to change this.
Maura works for the center on a of community interventions that increase residents’ access to healthy food. Her goal is to help patients of the health center and community put into practice what they learn at the health center. Interventions she oversees include a healthy cornerstore initiative, a subsidized CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, and an onsite farmers’ market. In addition to enabling people to obtain healthier foods, Maura also is creating a system where the farmers are supported. She is working to drive economic development in the area by bringing farmers and consumers together. “We want everyone to feel invested,” says Maura.
I recently had the chance to interview Maura about her work and her time at Friedman.
What was your background before attending Friedman?
I did my undergraduate studies at Vassar College, and during my junior summer I was seeking work in the Poughkeepsie, NY, community. I ended up interning with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Green Teen Community Gardening Program, an organization that employs youth in urban agriculture programs. Prior to the internship, I had been considering PhD programs in Jewish studies. But, only three days into the internship, I realized that I had found my true passion. I loved working with youth involvement programs, and I was operating in the crux of helping low income consumers gain equitable access to healthy food while supporting local food entrepreneurs to succeed in that context. We were working with creative solutions to achieve both ends. So, rather than pursuing a PhD in Jewish studies, I went to Tufts to study how I could continue to solve these sorts of issues.
What did you enjoy most about your time at Friedman?
The AFE program overall was great, but I learned most from experiences outside the classroom. I taught gardening classes at the Josiah Quincy Elemenatry School right around the corner from Friedman, and I did summer internships at Groundwork Somerville and the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center. I also spent all five semesters as a work study student with New Entry working on their farm business planning course. These experiences made real what was going on in the classroom. They were also valuable for networking and gave me access to a broader Boston network. My position at Groundwork even turned into a full-time position leading their youth employment programs, and I have continued consulting with New Entry on an ongoing basis since graduation.
How has your Friedman education helped you get to where you are today?
Friedman has a huge network, and the school has major clout in the greater Boston area. I collaborate regularly with other alumni. I know I can always go back to Friedman for resources if I need them.
Which classes were of most benefit to you?
Intro to Public Policy taught by Kathleen Merrigan and Community and Public Health Nutrition co-taught by Aviva Must, Miriam Nelson, and Chris Economos. Also, everything that Parke Wilde taught –he made math super fun!
What drew you to where you work now, the Bowdoin Street Health Center?
If I had to design my exact position it would be my current one. It incorporates food and agriculture into a community health setting and health center focused on serving a community with limited food access. The downside of my job is that I am working alone (I am a one-woman team for all of my initiatives), but the advantage is that I am exposed other broadly applicable programs that are going on alongside me (since the center is not just focused on food).
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Getting healthy food in people’s hands. Also, each week during the farmers’ market I watch kids play while parents shop. The farmers’ market has come to be a safe place in the neighborhood for families to gather and children to play. They have their jump ropes and hula-hoops out. It’s a hub of positive energy and a bustling center of commerce and community. The farmers’ market is transformed into an impromptu playground!
What advice do you have for current Friedman students, both those graduating this spring and those gearing up for summer internships?
Get out of the classroom. Find some way to engage in the local community or the community where you are hoping to work. Never underestimate the power of the connections you are making (students, professors, and everyone else you encounter); you don’t know who’s going to be valuable as a colleague or employer down the road.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
Natalie Obermeyer is a first year student in the Nutrition Communication and Masters of Public Health programs. When she is not studying, reading, or writing, she loves to run, hike, ski, play outdoors in the sunshine, and experiment in the kitchen.