Urban Farming

^ farming big-time in Boston’s South End

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Every time I think Governor Baker can’t possibly do something, he does it. I’ve said this before, I say it again.; case in point : the State’s first “food plan” since 1974.

The Plan has not been fleshed out yet. It is available online, however, in draft form, for comment and finalization. You can read its current state at this link :

Though the Plan is being administered in the State’s far west, around and beyond the Connecticut River valley, it offers enormous possibilities for food growth in the immediate Boston area as well — for urban farming in particular. During the 41 years since Governor Sargent ordered the State’s most recent food plan, urban farming has grown well beyond prediction. Alkl over Boston, even in densely built East Boston, urban gardens, some of them quite large, have been planted and developed. Today Farmers’ Markets set up shop in many Boston neighborhoods sell locally grown produce. There’s even wineries, and of course many local breweries. New farm gardens are being dug, fertilized, and seeded all the time. Ask Kannan Thiruvenghadam, who just this summer planted a farm — with much community help — at 24 Sumner Street in the heart of East Boston’s downtown. The Eastie Farm has its won facebook page and a dedicated cohort of harvesting volunteers. (the harvest took place on Saturday).

This weekend was harvest time all over Boston, from Fort Hill’s Thornton Street farm to large “victory gardens” all over Mattapan, the South End, and the Franklin Park section of Dorchester. In large respect, Boston’s urban farming movement already carries out the goals itemized in the Baker administration’s food plan :

“The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, in collaboration with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, and Massachusetts Workforce Alliance, are currently working with constituents across the state to develop the plan.

The plan will identify goals and strategies to:

•Increase production, sales and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods;

•Create jobs and economic opportunity in food and farming, and improve the wages and skills of food system workers;

•Protect the land and water needed to produce food, maximize the environmental benefits from agriculture and fishing, and ensure food safety; and

•Reduce hunger and food insecurity, increase the availability of fresh, healthy food to all residents, and reduce food waste.

The Food Plan clearly understands the necessity of involving our State’s communities of color and of low income in every part of the new farming. Its plan asks the following questions :

•How can we improve the viability and prosperity of Massachusetts agriculture?
•How can we increase access to fresh, healthful and affordable food, in ways that achieve greater equity along lines of race, class, and income?
•What can we do to make food system able to withstand stresses related to climate change?

I do not get the sense, reading the plan, that it advances the interests of large farms only. In any case, Massachusetts has few such “agri-businesses.” We have Ocean Spray, the nation’s largest cranberry harvester, yet even Ocean Spray is anon-profit collective; and cranberry farming is the essence of specialty food. Our large apple orchards don’t approach the monster size of those in upstate New York. We have few dairy farms of any size; the ones I’m familiar with, the Shaw Family dairy in Dracut and Garelick near the Rhode Island border, enjoy only local market dominance.

Instead, I see the new Food Plan as the culmination of an urban farming movement that has transformed Boston, as vacant lots — and rooftops — have given rise to crop growing tiny, medium,and large, as the pictures I have excerpted from Urban Farming’s webpage attest.

Urban Farming 3

It’s not at all a minor movement. In Boston alone, thousands of residents grow crops, doing all of the hard work themselves and harvesting with help from neighbors and volunteers. There’s even an urban farming school on Linwood Street in Roxbury’s Fort Hill — with a two acre crop lot attached — where young people interested learn to become crop growers for real. The Baker administration’s Food plan appears at the right time to advantage this school, and the conversation that will flesh out the Plan seems almost to have come to pass to involve these kids — and those already veterans of farming in the City.

Let the conversations begin.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere