The Food Project Takes On Urban Farming

The Greater Boston organization is tackling social change, leadership, and health through food.

The Food Project

Food Project employees at work in the North Shore. All photos provided

It’s been a busy few months for The Food Project.

Since last spring, the Massachusetts-based urban farming initiative has embarked on two very different new projects: The purchase of a sprawling 30-acre plot of land in rural Wenham, on the North Shore, and a new partnership on a stretch of Dudley Street in Roxbury and North Dorchester.

The Wenham plot, purchased this spring, brings the Food Project’s total acreage up to 72 across its branches in Boston, Lynn, Lincoln, Beverly, and Wenham, though only three acres of the new plot are in use in its first growing season. And on those 72 acres, explains Executive Director Selvin Chambers, the organization uses farming to teach the 120 young people it employs about social issues in different communities. “They can learn the differences of growing on two different parcels of land, both urban and suburban, and they can learn the social differences of those two communities,” he says.

The teaching doesn’t stop in Wenham, either. The just-launched partnership in the Dudley Street neighborhood aims, among other things, to enable people in that community to change their access to fresh food from the ground up. “The whole focus of that initiative is to figure out what community members need in regards to food access and working in partnership to really develop a platform for people to have access to fresh, healthy food and to really engage them in a way that they can grow their own food,” Chambers says. “It’s a partnership that’s working for the people and with the people to support the people in that community.”

Now in its 23rd growing season, The Food Project has always been about more than farming. The organization hires local kids to work on its farms, and in doing so teaches them leadership and social skills in addition to farming and nutrition. “As I talk about the Food Project, I describe it as developing young people as leaders in the here and now, teaching them how to engage with the community, and teaching them how to break down social barriers,” explains Chambers. “We use youth as the vehicle and food as the means and mechanism to really teach them the value of fresh produce.”

The Food Project

The Lincoln farm

Supporting communities is what sets The Food Project apart from other urban farming initiatives, Chambers says, because the organization is as much about empowering young people and their communities as it is about growing food. “We’re not just an organization that does production farming,” she says. “We’re really about making sure people have fair and open access to fresh, healthy food.”

The Food Project also places on emphasis on education, not just providing food. The kids who work for the organization learn about food distribution and social justice issues in addition to their hands-on work, and the group provides information about food preparation and do-it-yourself farming to the communities it serves. “There’s an intentional approach to make sure people are not just having access, but learning how to grow their own food and take care of their own gardens in a way that allows them to sustain their own food system in their neighborhood,” Chambers says.

Chambers says that such efforts will only expand in the coming years, bolstered by legislation like Article 89, which supports urban farming in Boston, and a growing, nationwide acceptance of urban farming practices like rooftop growing. “You can grow food anywhere,” Chambers stresses. “Not only can you produce food in open lots, but also when people realize how to access their rooftops and grow food there, there’s endless possibilities.”

The Food Project

Part of the Food Project crew in Lincoln