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J.'s Corner: Where there is a seed, there is hope

A message from Executive Director J. Harrison, published in the Spring 2015 edition of Happenings. To read the full newsletter, click here


In my first season at The Food Project in 2005, my job was to turn forty 12-foot-high piles of soil in Lynn into a farm.

The cold, early days of April were rough. High salt content in the soil made it tough for our early crops. Some second graders decided ripping up irrigation lines was a fun thing to do. A couple of high school students walking by yelled, "Hey man. What are you doing?" I yelled back, "Building a farm!" There was a long pause, laughter, and the response, "That won't work! You’re in the city." A growing sense of dread built in my chest. "What if this doesn't work?"

We kept at it. Late spring rains washed the salt from the soil. An afternoon planting beans with the Ingalls students resolved the issue of the irrigation lines. We hired our first Seed Crew and harvested our crops. Neighbors became our first community gardeners. Slowly but surely the piles of soil became a farm.

Looking back, I am inspired by the incredible progress we have made both locally and nationally on recognizing the importance and value of food and farms. When The Food Project started in 1991, food systems and sustainable agriculture were at the fringe of public awareness. Today, food and farming are center stage in the national discourse, and more affluent communities are home to a growing number of small farms and local food outlets. We have made huge strides forward on this front and as an organization we have much to be proud of in our contribution to the field.

At the same time, I believe our founders would be shocked to see how the rising inequality in income, the persistence of racism, and the epidemic of food-related illness have combined to prevent meaningful change in low-income neighborhoods. As an organization with deep roots in both low-income urban neighborhoods and more affluent suburban communities, this divide is stark and calls us to action.

In coming months, we will be sharing pieces of our new strategic plan. These strategies map out the charge of our mission: how our thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds will work to build a more sustainable food system. While a core intention of these strategies is to build and share new models for making fresh, healthy food affordable in our communities, they are rooted in a deeply held belief: by changing the world in the fields and communities where we work, we help change the world everywhere.

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