Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Food Project, Boston City Farm

From Lincoln we jumped on trains and buses and headed for Dorchester. We couldn't miss their excellent painted office at West Cottage and Dudley streets.

We met up with Bob, who showed us around the 3 urban lots that The Food Project grows their produce on. The neighbourhood bore a striking resemblance to the artistic interpretation featured in their office.

Their West Cottage site features a composting system built by the university. It spins, it aerates, it spills out the bottom.

One of the most exciting things about visiting North American gardens was seeing produce that isn't commonly grown in Melbourne. These tomatillos are pre-packaged beauties.

I'd been wondering what Callaloo was after seeing it in a Jamaican restaurant. It's this beautiful green vegetable you see before you.

The Food Project's urban agriculture has had an astounding effect on the neighbourhood, with many people beginning to grow in their own urban lots. This resident looks out on his corn field from his back porch. We passed lot after lot of cornstalks. I wonder how they deal with cross-pollination with so much growing in just a few blocks.

One of the great things about these kinds of projects is the carry on effect they have on the neighbourhood. As we were walking back to the office, a man came up to Bob and asked about some of the people he had known at the Food Project. He was looking for landscaping work and needed a reference. He spoke so highly of his Food Project experience that we almost could have believed that Bob had set the whole thing up. (which he hadn't)

As Cammy from the Lincoln farm explained, supplying fruits for the Farmer's market can be difficult as the Food Project grows mostly vegetables. However, they've taken over management of a heritage orchard at the historic Shirley-Eustic House in Roxbury.

The Food Project was staffed by the most generous, committed, unpretentious people. They really went out of their way to pass their knowledge on to the Australians who rocked up on their doorstep.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Boston Community Gardens

In Boston, we stayed with a friend who lived along the Southwest Greenway. The bike path into downtown Boston passes community gardens of all shapes and sizes, playgrounds and seats for repose. The Southwest Greenway has an interesting history. It runs along the Orange Subway line, which was due to become a 12-lane highway in the 1970s. The community managed to stop this project and instead of highway, created a greenway.
A courtyard wall in Jamaica Plain with highly creative re-use of containers for growing plants.
There's even a plastic bag doing a fine job of containing soil and green material.
And Ashley harvests the first radish of the season from her community garden plot.

The Food Project, Lincoln, MA

The Food Project is a sustainable agriculture program that focuses on youth leadership and empowerment.

They have city farms in inner-urban Boston along with rural farms in the surrounding countryside in Massachusetts. We took the commuter train out to Lincoln to see what they do.

The Food Project operates a Summer Youth Program, in which young people spend time working on both the city and rural farms. The produce grown is sold at a farmer's market in Boston and distributed through CSA boxes from their Lincoln farm. There's a lot to like about the way the Food Project runs their program. For starters, the young people are paid for the summer, so they are not forced to choose between being involved in the program or finding a summer job. There is a strong focus on diversity, recruiting youth from urban, suburban and rural areas and from a variety of cultural backgrounds. They sign a strict work contract. If they are late, they lose a certain amount of money - which they can regain by being on time every day for 2 weeks.

The summer program youth rotate between both the Lincoln and Dorchester sites, either working the farms for produce for the CSA boxes or to sell at the Farmer's market in downtown Boston. The Food Project spends substantial time on both Agricultural workshops and Social workshops on topics such as 'Diversity'. This is the dual focus on youth leadership and sustainable agriculture in action!
The Food Project also run an Academic Year Program with the D.I.R.T crew (Dynamic, Intelligent, Responsible Teenagers) and Internships. These interns are braiding garlic in one of the greenhouses at the Lincoln Farm.
A local beekeeper looks after the beehives, which are an important part of the food web/fertilization process.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Holyoke Buildings

From Boston, it took me four hours on a Peter Pan bus, then a local bus to get to downtown Holyoke, MA.Holyoke is an old paper mill town. Like a lot of smaller US cities, the heart has been ripped out of the downtown. Holyoke Mall is located a fair way out of the centre of the city, off the interstate. So people are moving out of the downtown and driving to the mall for everything they need.
Downtown Holyoke is beautiful, but strangely deserted. There are two canals running through the centre of town. Seems like it's only a matter of time till folks catch on to the cheap red brick buildings and Holyoke will be on the road to gentrification.

Nuestras Raices, Holyoke

Nuestras Raices (Our Roots) began as a organisation that managed community gardens in Holyoke. Now it encompasses a range of projects, many of which are based on a 4 acre farm on the Connecticut River in Holyoke. 40% of the population in Holyoke is Puerto Rican, many of whom were born in Puerto Rico, growing up on farms or working on farms in America.

Nuestras Raices has three main aims:
Celebrate Puerto Rican culture
Support local business
Environmental Justice Nuestras Raices runs business courses and leases plots to participants who develop successful business plans. They also manage community garden plots, though the business plots are significantly larger. The businesses operating on the Nuestras Raices farm include food crops, cut flowers, Paso Fino horse stable and a youth run petting zoo.
You will see Casitas like this one in most of the community gardens around town. They were constructed as tool sheds, but resemble Puerto Rican cottages. The gardens and farm provide an opportunity for teenagers and older people to work and learn together. Teens are involved in decision making processes and are paid to work on the farm, among other things running the petting zoo.
There is a lot of Puerto Rican food grown in the Massachusetts climate of Holyoke. I was interested to know if there were issues of land contamination. The paper industry was responsible for much of the industrial waste that polluted the Connecticut River. These days, the river is contaminated by raw sewage which overflows into the river during storms. Holyoke youth are involved in environmental stewardship programs addressing some of these issues.
The Farm Store sells coconut soda. Delicious. I wonder where I can get it in Australia?

Holyoke, MA and the landlocked Marine Reef Aquarium

I went to Holyoke to visit Nuestras Raices, an organisation that grew out of community gardens to be a major supporter and innovator of community development in Holyoke. They strongly support local businesses. When I landed in Holyoke and found their office, I came across Jerry, a passionate, energetic coral farmer. Jerry grows coral in aquarium tanks - 100 miles from the nearest ocean.
Jerry's vision is grand and fantastic. He grows coral from round the world, creating a kind of seed bank should coral reefs need to be replenished. He explained that he cools and warms the water in his tanks to encourage the coral to reproduce by releasing spores. Consequently, his coral is hardier to changes in water temperature than some naturally occurring corals. Jerry is a man that lives for marine environments, having grown up in Puerto Rico, and has found a way to live his passion in a place that seems so far from the ocean.

This is Jerry's nephew who shared fresh tamarind with me.
Jerry's Marine Reef Habitat makes its earnings from supplying aquariums to businesses and fish appreciators. He is also creating a domesticated coral trade so that there is an alternative to harvesting natural coral for souvenirs. Jerry's grand plan, however, is focused on the short and long term preservation of marine habitats.

White Point

We drove to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and stopped in a tiny fishing town called White Point. I got out of the car and walked the way the stick pointed. If there's anything I want to remember about this walk it's the smell. Red clover flowering in the heat. I wish I could blog in smell-0-rama.

Spins and Needles

In Halifax we took Sasha to Spins and Needles, a Craft and DJ event that tours Canada providing DIY crafting and funky beats.
Felt monsters and pixel bead badges were on the menu. I sewed the felt monster while Sasha cut out the nose, mouth and eyes.

The best part was watching all the Halifax hipsters lining up to use the glue gun. And the funky, happy beats made it all so much more fun.

Montreal Community Gardens

I really liked the way the Montreal Community Gardens were set up. This one in Village Tanneries was situated on a bike path, at the end of a local street. There's a community compost bin, which makes sense, as there seemed few backyards in this area. I like their fences too.