Written by Emma Zehner, amazing community volunteer for Groundwork Somerville
Food insecurity has increased by almost 60 percent in Eastern Massachusetts compared to before COVID-19. Household gardens, community farms, and other unused city space are working overtime to meet a growing need for fresh food. In Somerville, New England’s densest city, urban agriculture nonprofit Groundwork Somerville has pivoted its operations to ramp up food production on its one acre farm.
Since June, Groundwork Somerville has harvested over 650 pounds of food for the Somerville Mobile Farmers’ Market, which sells produce at a steeply discounted price, and donated over 1100 pounds of food to free meals organization Project Soup. While Groundwork Somerville normally focuses on growing a wider range of crops to use in its educational programs, after consulting with local partners, the organization decided to refocus and increase yield of a few staple products: cherry tomatoes, Callaloo, eggplant, and beans.
“Though we are not directly educating students right now, our pivoting to focus primarily on food production shows students that we can change our approach to meet the current needs of our community,” Emily Reckard-Mota, food and farms manager at Groundwork Somerville, said.
Most of the produce is grown at South Street Farm, the city’s first urban farm, which sits between a junkyard, auto repair shop, and several office buildings. Groundwork Somerville has leased the land, which formerly comprised two parking lots, from the City of Somerville since 2011. The creation of South Street Farm coincided with Somerville’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance; with this ordinance, Somerville became the first city in Massachusetts to formally outline guidelines for urban farming, gardening, and the growth and sale of produce in a city.
During a normal summer, South Street Farm would be busy with large volunteer groups and members of the organization’s Green Team, Groundwork Somerville’s flagship teen employment and leadership program which focuses on urban agriculture, environmental justice, and civic engagement. While Green Team leaders, who help to coordinate the program, are still visiting the farm, Green Team members are meeting almost exclusively online.
Groundwork Somerville’s main distribution partners, the Somerville Mobile Farmers’ Market, and Project Soup, help to make sure the produce from South Street Farm reaches neighborhoods throughout the city, particularly those without ready access to grocery stores. The Somerville Mobile Farmers’ Market has shifted to provide a pre-bagged selection of fruits and vegetables with special items to choose from each week and makes rounds to the Council on Aging, East Somerville Community School, North Street Housing Development, Mystic Housing Development, and other locations. The Market offers a 50 percent discount on all produce. Project Soup, New England’s oldest free supper program and a project of the Greater Somerville Homeless Coalition, is distributing produce out of its food pantry in East Somerville.
Groundwork Somerville is also maintaining its operations at eight school gardens throughout the city. While these gardens don’t produce the same volume of produce, Reckard-Mota explained, they are important to maintain so they are ready when students return. She also emphasized that they serve as a morale booster for the community.
Groundwork Somerville is a chapter of Groundwork USA, a national nonprofit committed to green, equitable development and programming for emerging youth environmental leaders. Other Groundwork chapters have similarly adjusted their programming for COVID-19. Groundwork Hudson Valley increased the number of teens it hired this summer for its own Green Team program, in an effort to offset rising unemployment rates. The Green Team for the South Coast chapter of Groundwork set a goal of growing 600 pounds of fresh produce to sell at markets accepting SNAP benefits and distribute to residents in Fall River and New Bedford.
Groundwork Somerville, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has been making change happen in Somerville, Massachusetts since 2000. Through community engagement, environmental and open space improvements, fresh food access, youth education, and employment initiatives, Groundwork creates the building blocks of a healthy community, and empowers residents to improve their quality of life. Groundwork achieves results by engaging the whole community – residents, youth, nonprofits, government and businesses – in the planning and realization of projects. With this collaborative approach, Groundwork ensures that all stakeholders are mutually invested in the outcomes, the key to stable neighborhoods and sustainable change.
Groundwork Somerville is currently accepting sponsorships for “GWS at 20” our 20th Anniversary Celebration! For more information, visit our event listing!