There’s something inspiring about seeing long straight rows of collard, kale and Swiss chard growing in the heart of Boston’s Dudley neighborhood. I admit that I clap at the sight of a single pea shoot coming up in my garden, but I defy anyone not to smile when they see The Food Project’s 1.4 acre pastoral paradise on West Cottage Street.
The Food Project is a nonprofit organization based in Boston and Lincoln, Mass. that seeks to create personal and social change through sustainable agriculture. It produces, sells, and donates healthy food; provides youth leadership opportunities, and promotes social justice.
Recently, I had the privilege of participating in one of The Food Project’s community lunches at the West Cottage Street site. Community members, supporters, and Food Project youth interns were seated at long tables in the field to enjoy a gourmet lunch and hear the youth talk about their experiences.
The Food Project’s primary crop–youth–is far more valuable—and lasting—than the delicious heirloom tomatoes they grow. In addition to sustainable farming, teenagers at The Food Project learn about selling food at farmers markets, distributing it to food banks, and cooking healthy, delicious meals. They also get opportunities to supervise volunteers, do public speaking, and learn about food policy and food justice issues. Unlike many other settings, the youth who are involved in The Food Project’s programs actually get paid for their work.
By recruiting both urban and suburban youth and having them work together in mixed teams that alternate between the urban and suburban/rural settings, The Food Project exposes teenagers to people and places they may not otherwise encounter.
One reason that I’m passionate about promoting local food, gardening and sustainable farming is that they have the potential to unite us across ages, classes, races, ethnicities, cultures and countries. But building communities across these boundaries takes more than just sprinkling a few seeds in the ground; they have to be cultivated. Over the past two decades, The Food Project has developed its own methodology for how to build mutual understanding among diverse groups and it offers resources and trainings for those who want to learn more about their successful model.
Volunteer chefs—the day I visited, they were from EVOO (evoo is an acronym for Extra Virgin Olive Oil), an upscale restaurant in Kendall Square that features organic, local and sustainable ingredients—work with the youth to prepare a buffet of healthy, delicious dishes featuring the foods grown on site. Lucky for me, it was a pescovegetarian feast: smoked salmon was the only non-vegetarian ingredient on the menu. If The Food Project ran a restaurant, I’d be a frequent eater.
In addition to their youth work, The Food Project also runs a variety of other programs, such as helping families and groups build raised bed gardens, providing reduced price produce to low-income families, running a CSA and selling at Farmers Markets, offering cooking and gardening workshops, working with schools and community centers, and serving as a national model for communities that want to start similar programs.
The Food Project is one of the many Massachusetts organizations, farms, restaurants and community members involved in planning activities for Food Day on October 24. Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. To learn more about The Food Project’s plans for Food Day, visit their blog, or keep checking the Massachusetts Food Day website.
And if you’re looking for inspiration beyond Food Day, check out the volunteer opportunities at The Food Project. Because every day should be Food Day.