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Episode 63: Urban farms bring fresh, local foods to Gateway Cities

Gateways

News & Politics

7/28/20-- Access to fresh, healthy, culturally appropriate foods is not a given for all communities across the Commonwealth. And recently, the COVID-19 crisis has spiked rates of hunger in the state and country. Leaders in urban agriculture are working toward ensuring fresh food is within easy reach for Massachusetts residents, no matter where they live in the state. Rose Arruda runs the Urban Agriculture Program at the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. Since 2014, the program has provided funding for urban agriculture endeavors that increase access to fresh and affordable foods for urban residents. The program began in 2014 after farming within city limits was made legal but constituents told the state they needed support in getting their growing projects up and running. The massive demand for urban farming became clear when the $200,000 the program offered was met by $2 million worth of requests. Arruda says the demand came largely from Gateway City residents. Lydia Sisson is the co-founder of a Gateway City urban agriculture program in Lowell called Mill City Grows. Sisson has since left the program but remembers arriving in Lowell, wanting a place to grow food, and finding no community garden. Several of her neighbors who were also looking for an option banded together, and in 2012 Mill City Grows was born. The organization creates community gardens, urban farms, educates farmers, and runs a mobile market. Now, Sisson provides food systems consulting for organizations across the state. Liz O’Gilvie is the director of the Springfield Food Policy Council. She works to address the food access inequities that are present between income and race groups in the Pioneer Valley, and says that the food system is what “started” racism in this country. “It wasn’t a geography question around why we don’t have grocery stores or why we don’t have farmer’s markets. The whole construct is rooted in enslavement of Black people and the removal of indigenous people from land, and in some parts of our country, that was prime agricultural land. The conversations O’Gilvie has at the Springfield Food Policy Council revolve around, “growing enough food to supply the stores so that everybody who’s not growing can still buy what they want, when they want it and when it’s in season,” she says. “And we can grow crops that are culturally relevant to all the people who live here. We don’t all want kale.”


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