The Food Project: Youth. Food. Community.

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History

Summer Youth Program in 1992
Summer Youth Program in 1992
By growing food and working with others, we act on our desire to learn, to serve and to be productive. -- Ward Cheney, Founder

Roots

Founded by Lincoln and Weston, MA resident Ward Cheney, The Food Project grew out of his recognition that young people and adults were not connected to the land or, often, to each other. Lincoln is an affluent suburb known for its innovative land preservation policies, where over a third of the community's 9000 acres are considered protected open space. And yet he observed that youth felt isolated from their surroundings because local opportunities for meaningful work were limited. He also discovered that city youth expressed similar frustrations.

And so, drawing on his experience as a farmer, organizer, educator, and activist, Ward founded The Food Project in 1991. His dream was both intimate and expansive. He created an opportunity for compelling, local work that focused on the land relationships. But he also envisioned The Food Project as a national model with the potential to transform urban and suburban young people and the communities in which they lived. Even though Ward left the program in 1993, his vision has allowed The Food Project to grow and thrive.

The Food Project launched its first growing season in 1992 with a budget of $100,000, three staff and eighteen youth working on 2.5 acres of land at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. That summer, it grew and donated 20,000 pounds of food.

Growth

After its first three years as a self-funded pilot project of the Massachusetts Audubon Society at Drumlin Farm, The Food Project leased five, then eight, then 12, and finally 21 acres of land from Lincoln's Conservation Commission. In the fall of 2002, we leased an additional 10 acres near our existing farm.

In 1995, Food Project youth partnered with residents of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood to clear the Langdon Street Lot and prepare the land for its first growing season in 1996. This formerly vacant half-acre was home to abandoned cars, old appliances, construction debris, trash, and litter.

In 1997, youth and community members cleared a two-acre site several blocks from the first. Again, The Food Project joined with neighbors to make the land productive. After adding tons of compost and countless hours of clean-up, the West Cottage Street lot was born.

Starting in 1998 The Food Project began documenting its programs and methodologies through a video, two books and many manuals. TFP also started its national networking and training expansion through cocreating the Rooted in Community Network.

And in 2001-2002, The Food Project added a third piece of land on Roxbury’s Albion Street. A neighborhood gardener lent the organization the use of her land, an undeveloped lot just blocks from the other two sites. Remediation became complete in 2001 and growing began in 2002.

In 2003 The Food Project launched BLAST, an international initiative focusing on the next generation of leaders, farmers and practitioners in food systems work.

In 2005, The Food Project launched a new site in Lynn, on the North Shore. In the first season we employed 25 youth to farm a half acre at the Ingalls school, and helped at Appleton Farms in Ipswich.

We began growing on our Beverly land during the Spring of 2006. Through a partnership with the Trustees of Reservations we tend 2 acres of their historic Long Hill property. Using sustainable agricultural techniques we have transformed fallow land into a vibrant vegetable garden!

The Food Project now employs over 100 young people and 25 full-time staff and engages nearly 2,000 volunteers annually. It has offices in Lincoln, Lynn and Boston. It grows over 250,000 pounds of chemical-pesticide-free food each season for charitable donation, subsidized sale at farmers’ markets, and youth-driven food enterprises.

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