March 18, 2014 — Six nonprofits across Massachusetts recently were awarded $122,623 in state grants for urban farm pilot projects, one of the nation’s first state-funded urban farming initiatives aimed at helping more cities growth their own food.
The Urban Agricultural Program grants, administered by the Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR), is designed to build community partnerships, increase access to fresh, nutritious food for urban residents at risk for diet-related chronic diseases, and promote viable farming methods and local initiatives that other cities can replicate.
“In Massachusetts, we produce five to 10 percent of the food we consume and are dependent on climate change-vulnerable areas like California for the rest," said DAR Commissioner Greg Watson. “When paired with the trend of most Americans living in urban areas, supporting active commercial agriculture in our cities is a strong step in strengthening our food security."
According to DAR, the program will address some of the challenges facing urban farmers, such as suitable land, confined space, limited sunlight, nutrient-poor soils, high start-up costs, restrictive zoning rules and lack of farming experience and business training.
Receiving the grants were the following:
- The Food Project, Boston – $27,789 for The Food Project and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) to conduct a cost analysis of the Food Project’s urban and suburban farm tracts, install an overhead irrigation system at the DSNI greenhouse, underwrite extension school training for greenhouse staff and student volunteers to help increase tomato yields, and launch a Dudley neighborhood community food action planning process.
- Gardening the Community, Springfield – $15,611 to conduct soil nutrient assessment of two farm plots, purchase and construct protective structures for temperature-sensitive crops, to establish a more visible neighborhood farm stand and for multi-lingual marketing materials.
- Groundwork Lawrence (GWL), Lawrence – $19,053 to expand growing space at Costello Park, including installation of a greenhouse and cold frame structure. The improvements will enable the Green Team to cultivate herb and vegetable seedlings for their use and sale to GWL’s 350 member community gardening network and increase the produce supplied to neighborhood farmers’ markets.
- Mill City Grows, Lowell – $20,000 to retrofit a bus to be used as a mobile market truck, create marketing and educational materials, and purchase iPads, EBT machines and tracking software to accept WIC and SNAP electronic payments. These investments will allow implementation of a full-service mobile market in June 2014 and increase the availability of affordable and fresh local food in neighborhoods remote from grocery stores and Lowell’s sole stationary farmers’ market.
- Regional Environmental Council, Worcester – $10,170 to purchase computer software and hardware that will enable the mobile market to track and process EBT and SNAP market sales and allow Worcester restaurants, grocery stores and other institutional buyers to source from farm vendors. Harvard Pilgrim, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farmers’ Market Promotion Program and USDA Commodity Food project have jointly pledged $467,410 to support the project.
- Urban Farming Institute, Boston – $30,000, in partnership with Tufts University’s New Entry Sustainable Farmers Project, to develop and implement a model curriculum and field training program for residents of low-income Boston neighborhoods focusing on small plot urban farming. The program’s goal is to recruit and train a new cohort of urban farmers who can establish successful farm operations and agricultural processing businesses. The Kendall, Citizens Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Eos foundations have committed $130,000 in matching funds.
In addition, the City of Somerville was awarded a $36,877 grant that it will use to engage with Groundwork Somerville, Stem Garden Institute, Shape-Up Somerville, and the Somerville Public School System to support the construction of a new raised bed and greenhouse structure at the established and urban South Street Farm, as well as the installation of a new hydroponics growing system at the city’s Edgerly School.