Tag Archives: urban farming

What does a local food system look like?

Somerville is the densest city in New England, topping the population scale at 77,104 in 4.2 sq. miles of space. Somerville’s lack of open space and its rich industrial history (contaminated soil is a challenge that residents face when attempting to garden) allows for an endless amount of creativity that people are using to participate in the ‘grow your own’ movement. From porches to rooftops, raised beds to reclaimed lots, businesses, individuals, and youth are building crop knowledge and farming experience as a community. Although Somerville has a long way to go to create the kind of autonomy from the global food system that many cities around the world are striving for, there are features that should be celebrated for its innovation and forward thinking for a healthier, collaborative, and resilient community.

1) Mobile Markets

If a resident of the housing development walked around the Mystic Housing complex or to the North Street Playground in Somerville on any Saturday from May-September between 10am and 5pm one would be astounded at the hustle and bustle of the mobile market. Individuals and families can find affordable fresh produce, music, face painting, bike fixing, and healthy recipes right outside their doors. Three years since it’s inception, this subsidized market has become a staple dietary resource to these low-income neighborhoods. The market was co-founded by Shape Up Somerville and Groundwork Somerville as a way to increase access to affordable produce to under served communities. The businesses and organizations that congregate at this market included Enterprise Farms, the Boston Cyclists Union, the Mystic Garden Learning Center, and Groundwork Somerville.  Enterprise Farms, an organic farm located in South Deerfield, Ma, made the trip to Somerville every week to support and supply these low-income markets with affordable produce. Their mission to grow a balanced variety of vegetables made available to everyone, regardless of income, is one to be revered. An important part of building a local food system is providing access to everyone. At the end of each day, left over produce was donated to local food pantries. The inclusion of these markets and the energy that customers bring to it is what makes the mobile market special.Green Team Fall 2012 001

2) Youth Grown Produce

Groundwork Somerville’s Green Team and The Mystic Garden Learning Center share the desire to spread gardening knowledge to youth between the ages of 6 and 19. The Green Team is a youth leadership program that provides employment to local young people ages 14-19 years old. The program combines team building games (which the youth conduct themselves) with job readiness skills like resume building and public speaking in various settings like a schoolyard garden, a legislative meeting, or a reclaimed lot. During the summer these young people travel by bike throughout the city to tend to the garden beds in every elementary school in Somerville as well as to South Street Farm. They plan their plots, plant their seeds, water the seedlings, and harvest the produce for the Mobile Markets. group produce

The Mystic Garden Learning Center is another youth program that allows for garden exploration and inspires youth grown produce. Kids ages 6-12 can participate in the Learning Center’s summer camp and observe worms and compost changes, plant vegetable seedlings, and harvest greens. This summer, a grant was awarded to a few youth who applied to expand their garden space to increase their harvests. These youth showed up every week at the mobile market to peddle their free vegetables which always looked rich in color and flavor. Green Team Fall 2012 003

3) Somerville’s Urban Ambassador Program

The City of Somerville paired up with Green City Growers to create a hands-on intensive educational program designed to train 15 community members to garden in their backyards and in the community. Topics included how to assess a space for gardening, intensive gardening techniques, identifying plant varieties, cold frame construction, season extension, and an introduction to bee and chicken keeping. Graduates of the program then volunteered 30 hours of their time to existing garden related programs in Somerville. A few graduates spearheaded their own projects like building a community garden on a vacant lot and starting a seed saving library. This model of education and community integration creates structural support for people to get started growing their own food. Not only do programs like this encourage a sustainable mindset, but it also fosters a community unto itself. Graduates become resources for each other and for the city at large. abe

Somerville still has a long way to go before achieving true independence from the global food system, but these examples are to be shared, encouraged, and celebrated for its push for a more sustainable community.  What are some ways that your community is moving towards a local food system?


Will You Have a Part in Victory? Will You “Grow Your Own?”

Beverly Opening Day
Will You Have a Part in Victory? Will You “Grow Your Own?”

“Will you have a part in victory?” was an important question posed twice to the American people in the first half of the 20th Century; in 1917 during World War I and again in 1939 during World War II. A national campaign was launched promoting the cultivation of available private lands to increase local food production thereby greatly reducing shipping costs and helping the war effort. The Great Wars may be over, but the many benefits of “Grow your own!” are applicable today more than ever. So applicable in fact, one New England town teaches gardening to every 3rd grader as part of their “Be Healthy Beverly” initiative. 5 great reasons to grow your own:

1. Growing your own conserves energy and spares the environment. Today, the average distance food travels from the farm where it’s picked to your table where it’s eaten is 1,500 to 2,500 miles. Airplanes and refrigerated long-haul trucks require enormous amounts of fossil fuel, consuming resources and polluting the environment. In New England, why buy potatoes from Idaho and apples from Washington (or further!) when we can grow our own right here?

2. Growing your own looks and tastes better. In a blind taste test administered to local 3rd graders as part of the Green City Growers garden education program, the students preferred the locally grown organic fruit to the conventionally grown shipped fruit. Produce that travels long distances is picked before it’s reached full maturity because it continues to ripen during transit. Crops picked at their peak look and taste better.

3. Growing your own is better for you. Conventional soil has been stripped of natural carbon, nitrogen and microbial biomass, and laden with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This soil produces fruit and vegetables low in antioxidant activity and essential vitamins and minerals. And the longer produce travels and sits in a warehouse, the more likely nutrients will be lost. More importantly, childhood obesity is epidemic. Teaching children to recognize vegetables and know where they come from engages them in healthy behaviors that will last a lifetime.

4. Growing your own preserves genetic diversity. In modern agriculture, plant varieties are chosen for their high yield, heartiness, shelf life, and uniformity. You can grow a much more diverse garden, to produce a longer growing season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.

5. Growing your own is an investment in the future. Knowing how to garden, and teaching kids how to garden, is a valuable tool to have in the tool belt. Farming is a valuable part of education that has been lost. Not only is it better for our health and longevity to connect with our food – to harvest, prepare and eat REAL food instead of eating store-bought, manufactured faux food – and better for our planet; in truth, this knowledge may be essential to our very survival one day…

In the 80’s it was the threat of the cold war and nuclear weapons. In the 90’s we started to see massive scale environmental disasters. In the 2000’s it’s the possibility of global economic collapse. Each threat is not replacing the last, but instead being added to the pile of mounting threats. Gone are the days of root cellars, jarred preserves, and canned or frozen vegetables from our own gardens. We are completely beholden to the trucks that roll in every day carrying our food to market.

During an extended trucker’s strike in Paris, France in 1997, Parisiens cleared out the grocery stores within the first day. According to one account: within five days, normal, law-abiding citizens took to the streets and started threatening anyone who had food. Those with no food quickly crossed the line of sanity and started desperately looking to take food from those who had it by any means necessary. Civilization very quickly breaks down without access to food.

Or simply, as one 3rd grader from Ayer School in Beverly, MA, put it when asked Why is it important to garden at home or at school?, “Because if you don’t have any money and you’re hungry you can just eat the food you grow.”

What will be YOUR part in victory?

Augusta Barstow
Marketing Associate at Green City Growers

Miles to Go – More Food Per Foot

Food & Farming in Boston Is Picking-up Steam

Urban Agriculture Rezoning -- Local Food Production and Distribution Map, thumbnail

Boston Food Map

Boston brings farming back to the city

  • New Farm Zoning will increase access to affordable healthy food, serve all Boston communities and promote economic opportunity

The Boston Public Market 

  • Opening in 2014: 136 Blackstone Street on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway

These new developments will open up urban food production and delivery to an expanded group of urban farmers and are built on the successes of the Food Project, City Growers, Green City Growers, ReVision Farms and Allandale Farms.

Now we face the challenge of figuring out how to feed Boston?

cornerstalk farm is coming


Urban Farms like CORNERSTALK are going to need to do two things, use all the land resources available and maximize production.

Real world example

Underutilized land in Boston

Lots like the one below will need to become farms.

In July of 2012 the Conservation Law Foundation published “Measuring Benefits, Overcoming Barriers, and Nurturing Opportunities for Urban Agriculture in Boston.”  They found that  identifying available growing space is going to be extremely challenging if not the most significant factor limiting the growth of urban agriculture.

How Good do we have to be

To farm the city with impact we have to use clean, sustainable technologies from companies like Freight Farms that can produce at 100 times the volume of conventional farming, right here in Boston 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

freight farms

Freight Farms – Controlled Environment Agriculture Technology

Metro Boston has a population of 4,640,802, and Boston has 600,000 residents. But Boston only has approximately 800 acres of space for farming. Adding new and renovated roof space for farms bumps this up. Based on data in the CLF study, this could provide food for 60,000 people for 6 months if all 800 acres can be farmed effectively and successfully using conventional methods. We clearly need to bump up production per foot, and start looking at production per cubic foot.

Urban Farmers don’t have to be giant “agribusiness like” companies to meet this need, but we need to use all the technology that is available in order to be agile, efficient and responsive enough to scale food production closer to the food consumption required. We can grow more food in Boston with no GMO, no pesticides, low water and energy use.

Looking forward to seeing you October 24th – Shawn and Connie

Urban Farming Sunsets

These are the experiences of Bettny and Jenna, interns at Nuestro Huerto Urban Farm in Worcester, MA.


Urban Farming Sunsets

Bettny Mazur

I bend down and pick a shiny, perfectly orange sun gold tomato with hands now covered in green and black dust from harvesting the copious tomato plants before me, plop one into my mouth, and thankfully sigh as the juices fill my mouth with the most wonderfully sweet taste.   I look up across the garden beds and over the metal fence to see the urban canvas laid out before me.   To the untrained eye it may seem like your average post-industrial city: neglected, overgrown fields spread out beneath dilapidated old coal plants situated next to a rusty train track with remnants of graffiti artists having a fun night in town with not much else to do.  But to the artistic farmer’s eye it is so much more: Four vast, white towers that have filled our harvesting conversations with potentials for large granaries and water catchments, a train that fills in its part in the symphony of construction, traffic and Latin music that has become all too familiar as we harvest chard and kale, and the nighttime “urban sunset” against the reddish-orange dumpster that has turned from an inside joke to an actual highly anticipated moment in our late nights on the farm. This farm, which has become a sort of reprieve from the city, is coincidentally right in the heart of the boisterous city of Worcester, Massachusetts, situated in the parking lot of a kind and generous church. We get our fair share of honks and curious and confused looks from passers-by as everyone seems rushed to get from wherever they were to wherever they are going, as I gratefully continue my farm work in a place where time seems irrelevant even amongst the jarring city lights.

And this is what urban farming has become for me: a chance to appreciate the unappreciated, find beauty in the potentially unbeautiful, and enjoy that which has become long forgotten. Worcester has become a home for me in the past few years during my time here, but it was not until I became involved in Nuestro Huerto (Spanish for Our Backyard Vegetable Garden) that it truly stole my heart. This city is far from being free from its troubles. The epitome of a food desert, Worcester has its fair share of convenience stores, fast food chain restaurants, and candy wrappers and lottery tickets which litter the sidewalks every where you look. Food stamps are a common necessity, although what people buy with them can be limiting and therefore potentially unhealthy. This has become common in many diverse, lower class neighborhoods and an unfortunate commonality within the paradigm of those with money eat better than those without. Fortunately, the concept of food justice has taken hold in the city in the form of farmer’s markets, a mobile farmers market, farm to school programs, school gardens, an affordable, organic food coop, and a few urban gardens and farms.

Farming in any setting comes with its strife and unpredictability, yet in the city you may have the added problems of space, pollution, and awareness. For me, however, I see these challenges as room for more possibilities and the type of creativity and perseverance that is necessary when growing food in an urban setting. We terrace our tomato beds on a small sector of land that was once forgotten and full of overgrown weeds and rusted steel, we plant every inch of every bed that we have access to, and we make use of every cement pillar, fallen tree, and metal piece that we find. Resourcefulness and ingenuity have become helpful if not necessary in this type of environment, and we can feel proud knowing that we are making a difference in every way that we can.

I have worked on a number of gardens and farms over the past five years and have had my share of fantasies of living on a beautifully vast rural expanse of nothing but pure farmland. Nuestro Huerto is not the cookie cutter picture you may find on your organic milk jug (although in this day and age not much is, and that picture may have a wide range of hidden corporate labels within it). Yet it is picturesque in its own way. I look forward to the bike ride past the four white coal towers now cradled in vines, the colorful graffitied trains, and the copious overgrown lots full of wildflowers and edible weeds of every kind. I am grateful that I can be apart of a movement in which I can see the direct impact of my work, from the constant influx of kale of every variety, to the eager faces of the people who come to the farm to pick up their weekly CSAs. So here’s to a world full of more fresh, affordable, and healthy food, and a city that is beautiful in every way.



5 AM

Jenna Wills


My alarm clock would go off at 5:30 AM five days a week. I woke up with the clothes I was going to wear to the farm already on my body, as I wanted to sleep until the last possible second before I had to walk out the door. I was a zombie walking down the hall, brushing my teeth and filling up my gallon of water before I was greeted by the oppressive humidity outside of my cool house. I started my car, drove 15 minutes down the road, and ended up at Longview Flowers a minute before 6am, the start of the workday. Once I was on the farm, I almost forgot what the hour was, that is until I saw the sun slowly rising above the tree line, allowing its rays to insulate the earth to a warm 90 degrees. The last summer at Longview Flowers was definitely the hottest one, sweltering days that were over 100 degrees, sunburns that never faded, and bug bites that multiplied hourly. The flowers loved the warm and humid climate, my body however did not. I spent three summers at 40 Bridge Road, Lumberton NJ, weeding, seeding, planting, harvesting, and arranging flowers to be sold at local South Jersey farmer’s markets. I learned to love the solitude of working on the farm, the feeling of the Earth graciously allowing me to poke it and pull it, planting seeds that will eventually grow to be beautiful cut flowers. I eventually had grown to appreciate the Earth in a way that most people do not in our 21st century world.

My appreciation was not reached by instant gratification by any means. After the first day of farm work three years prior, I didn’t want to end up back on Bridge Road ever again. My knees were sore, my body filthy, and I didn’t have anything to show for my first day of work. I began to think about how much I would rather work retail, where I could be talking to customers all day surrounded by goods I thought I needed. I stuck with working at Longview, mostly because I didn’t have any more options but also because my parents encouraged me to try something new. I’m glad I listened, because it wasn’t long before I knew I made the right choice.

Working at Longview Flowers opened up my eyes to the world of sustainable agriculture, food security, food systems, food justice, and urban (and rural) farming. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful boss who had a hand in incorporating Greensgrow Urban Farm in Philadelphia, as well as many other connections throughout the Tri-State area.  I spent every summer during my undergrad time working at Longview, every year expanding my horizons and introducing new paths to take in my life.

Three summers at Longview led me to my final year at Clark University. I had been accepted into the Community Development and Planning Fifth-year program, and was moving along smoothly on my directed studies and practicum projects. Everything seemed to be going well, but there was still something missing. It was February 2012 when I received an e-mail from a past professor encouraging her students to apply for an internship on the Nuestro Huerto volunteer run urban farm on Southgate Street in Worcester. I eventually heard back from Amanda, and after a long phone call sharing our interests and objectives, I was the newest intern at Nuestro Huerto. Amanda wasted no time before giving me things to do, the first of which was to create a plan for the flowers that would eventually be planted on the farm. I was ecstatic, of course, since it was very similar to what I had done for three years. I spent time during my spring break trip to Las Vegas researching flower varieties and what would do well in our soil and climate zone. Upon creating the list, I sent it over to Amanda and we began collecting seeds. The summer, although still a few months away, was something to look forward to—I had finally gone back to my roots and would soon be starting an adventure I never actually thought would happen…I was becoming an urban farmer.

Urban farming is interesting to me because the farms themselves are usually located in areas that do not seem to be conducive to farming. However, for urban farmers, any parcel of land that is non-toxic has the potential to grow vegetables, fruits, and flowers. For those who started Nuestro Huerto, the South Worcester industrial park that once was, was a perfect fit. I headed to the farm for my first workday in late March, where we spent most of our time pulling old pieces of steel, rocks, and other debris out of what would eventually be a dozen new beds that would produce a plethora of tomatoes, okra, eggplant, and basil.

Perhaps what drew me most to the Nuestro Huerto farm-scene was how open they were to new volunteers and faces around the farm. I always felt welcome and like my input was productive and appreciated. I enjoyed waking up early on the days I didn’t have class to venture to the farm and get dirty for four hours. I enjoyed biking home, dripping sweat, and having my roommates tell me I looked like I spent hours playing in the mud. I loved seeing the fruit of my labor, something I think all farmers can agree on, and eventually making meals out of the seeds I planted in March. I loved seeing the sunflowers grow to nine or ten feet tall, even if they didn’t start to bloom until August. There is something about farm life that is so simple, yet so complex that I cannot seem to leave. I have learned so much from being a part of two wonderful farming initiatives, and cannot even begin to write down all of the new skills I have learned over the past four years. Creating a just and sustainable food system is something I hope these farms can initiate in our communities, and I would love to be a part of something bigger than myself, helping others within the community who could greatly benefit from locally grown, organic produce. However, perhaps what the most beneficial thing I have learned over that past four years is that farming can be extremely personal. Farming helped me reach inside myself and find what I was passionate about, what I wanted to do with my life, and who would be able to help me. I spent hours alone at Longview cutting flowers all while listening to the sound of the cicadas surrounding me; I wasn’t alone in this world—I had myself and the Earth to support me and make me grow.