The Food Project Connects Communities to Fresh Food
Program puts next generation of farmers to work in Boston region.
Teens harvest crops at The Food Project's farm in Boston.
Some neighborhoods in Greater Boston are considered food deserts, areas that lack access to healthy and affordable fresh food. With no supermarkets or farmers’ markets nearby, low-income residents must rely on expensive corner stores that stock shelves with processed food.
It’s like a variation of the old adage: “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Fast-food restaurants and corner bodegas may abound, but there is little to eat. Immigrant families, cut off from their traditional foods and stretching their food budgets on limited incomes, turn to processed foods. Their children lose their connection to fresh food and farms as they grow up.
The Food Project is an organization working to reconnect these communities to fresh food, and it’s doing so partly by getting children back on the farm. While the 20-year-old group provides subsidized community supported agriculture farm shares and organizes farmers’ markets in underserved communities, it also grows the next generation of farmers with its youth food and farming programs.
The goal is “to get folks healthy right from the start,” says Michael Iceland, a communications manager for The Food Project. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of intervention.”
Every year, the organization hires some 90 urban and suburban teenagers from the Boston area and nearby communities for its summer farm program. The teens work on area farmland used by the organization to grow 200 different varieties of 50 different vegetables for subsidized CSA shares and farmers’ markets. The organization has some 40 acres, leased or loaned by preservation groups or communities.
Many of the teens who work there have little idea of how food is grown, says John Wang, The Food Project intern program coordinator. “They have no idea if their food grows aboveground or underground,” Wang says.
Tenth-grader Fernando Ortiz Ruiz probably fit that description when he began with the project. He lives in Revere, a gritty city northeast of Boston where street gangs are active and the city’s beach last summer was the site of a giant brawl that made national headlines. The summer before his ninth-grade year, Ortiz Ruiz was looking for some kind of summer work to keep him out of trouble. A teacher suggested The Food Project, and he was shown a video of the teens on the farm.
“As soon as I saw the video, I said, ‘I want to do that,’” he says. “They were having a good time; they were getting their hands dirty.”