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History-Urban Farms

The Food Project farms in 4 communities: Lincoln, Boston, Lynn and Beverly.  Currently, our urban farms are in Lynn and in Boston (in the Roxbury/Dorchester neighborhoods).

Urban Agriculture, Boston

Large parts of Roxbury and Dorchester were once individual farms, known primarily for fruit production. The "Roxbury Russet" apple was grown in the 1700-1800's and was prized for its excellent flavor and long storage. It can still be found in many heirloom fruit catalogs.

In the early 19th century, the area around our present food lots began to change. Farms were subdivided, single family homes were built and the area was transformed from a farming community into a thriving residential neighborhood. While the neighborhood enjoyed a long period of economic and social stability, in the mid to late 1900’s the Dudley neighborhood was faced with increasing challenges as median incomes plunged and crime rates increased. Buildings were abandoned and burned to the ground by owners that were not able to sell their properties due to discriminatory practices on the part of banks and real estate companies to prohibit loans to owners and potential buyers of properties in the neighborhood. This practice, known as “redlining”, contributed greatly to the socio-economic difficulties experienced by the neighborhood at this time. Located less than two miles from downtown Boston, the neighborhood has a staggering amount of vacant land (21%) -- vestiges of these fires that occurred in the '60's and '70's. The neighborhood is one of the poorest areas in Massachusetts. Today the neighborhood in which we work is made up of African-American, Latin-American, Cape Verdean, and White families. It is also a remarkable reservoir of resident leadership, talent, spirit and determination.

In the 1980s, the neighborhood was designated a Brownsfields area by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Severe lead contamination, excessive noise, garbage and pollution was combined with a lack of access to food. There was no grocery store within walking distance and public transportation was unreliable and indirect. A high use of food stamps, soup kitchens, and food pantries existed amongst neighborhood residents. In addition, the rampant destruction of houses that followed the redlining of the neighborhood by banks and real estate companies in the 1960s and 1970s left more than 1,000 vacant lots in the neighborhood, some very sizeable.

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a community organization originally founded in the mid 1980s by residents to combat illegal dumping of slaughterhouse refuse and other waste products in their neighborhood, took on many of these challenges. By the early 1990s, DSNI had grown into a powerful non-profit with the right of eminent domain over all the land within an area designated as the Dudley Triangle, with Dudley Square at its heart.

In 1993 The Food Project connected with DSNI to recruit youth from the neighborhood for The Food Project’s summer youth program. In 1995, DSNI offered The Food Project a half-acre parcel of city-owned land at the corner of Langdon and George Streets. The lot had been cleared of debris from 3 houses that had once stood on the land, and in 1995 Food Project youth spent a week in the city spreading 10 truckloads of compost (more than 300 cubic yards) on top of the lead contaminated land that lay underneath. By the summer of 1996, lead tests showed that the land was clean enough to grow on and we began working the land, growing labor-intensive crops and specialty ethnic crops that were particularly popular in the neighborhood.

In 1997 a 1.4 acre parcel of land only a few blocks from the Langdon Street site became available. This land had once been the site of a small neighborhood of 16 houses located around a cul-de-sac, all of which burned down in the mid-1960s. While initial grading, fencing and positioning of boulders to prevent cars from driving onto the land had occurred through the efforts of DSNI, The Food Project youth and staff again began the process of clearing trash and brush and spreading trucks of soil and compost. Beginning in 1998, we began growing on a section of this lot, while continuing the process of clearing and spreading new soil on other sections.

The Food Project began working on a third, single-house lot in the summer of 2001. Also within a few blocks of our other sites, the Albion street lot is owned by a neighbor who purchased the land in order to prevent further development on her street. She offered The Food Project use of her land in exchange for helping her with her own garden. Again, soil tests showed high levels of lead, and remediation was undertaken by spreading compost and soil over the area.

In 2004, the Boston Area Health Education Center contacted The Food Project about the possibility of putting in a garden on the roof of part of the Boston Medical Center.  We now operate a 6,000 square foot production garden at this nearby hospital, where we grow beans, tomatoes, peppers and other crops to supplement our Dudley Farmers' Market offerings.  The garden is also used as an exercise in garden planning for The Food Project’s academic year program. Members of the D.I.R.T. Crew plan all aspects of the garden – from the varieties of the veggies to their placement in the garden.  Be sure to check out the TFP blog for the latest updates on the rooftop garden!

Urban Agriculture, Lynn

The Food Project has partnered with the Lynn School Department and the Lynn Community Development and Housing Corporation to lease two parcels of land in the Ingalls School neighborhood.

In 2004 and 2005, we brought in 40 tractor-trailers of new soil and many batches of compost to make the foundation for our urban agriculture operations.  The summer of 2005 was our first growing season on the land in Lynn. We had a very fruitful year and doubled the size in 2006.



The Food Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Tax ID: 04-3262532


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