The Food Project: Youth. Food. Community.

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Sustainable Agriculture Practices

The Food Project strives for a sustainable farm operation.  Sustainability for The Food Project means keeping a true balance between production and renewal.  It means working with and responding to nature in order to replace what is taken away.
There are three areas of sustainability that The Food Project aims to practice:  environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and financial sustainability.
Environmental Sustainability
The Food Project is dependant on the land as the basis of the work and mission.  Without it, the youth programs lack a medium for their experience and people lack access to healthy food.  Our role is to be aware of the long-term effects of our use of the land.  We are responsive to nature as we make our agricultural decisions.  The idea is not to simply take what we need from the land, but rather to work in cooperation with the natural world in order to direct and support the growth of agricultural crops.
Our environmental sustainability can be observed in how we manage our soil, fertility, weeds, tillage, insects, and plant diseases. Since our concern is the long-term health of the land, we do not use any chemically based fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, or insecticides.  We grow a wide diversity of crops (over 175 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers), which provide a rich habitat for beneficial insects along with deterring disease problems.  Crop rotation, cover cropping, the spreading of compost and fallow seasons are used in order to reduce weed pressure, increase soil fertility, manage soil nutrients, and improve soil structure.
 
Social Sustainability
At The Food Project, we believe that the people on the farm need to work in a sustainable fashion in order to maintain the long-term health of the organization and the land.  If our farms are the foundation of our food system then we need to promote the well being of the individuals that provide for its abundant harvests.  We do this by structuring for staff a healthy workplace schedule, vacations during the height of the season, regular feedback sessions, open access to all farm information, interaction with the public, and the consumption of lots of healthy produce.
Financial Sustainability
In order for our suburban farms to exist long into the future, they need to be able to cover their expenses.  If they are a continual financial drain on The Food Project, they will eventually lead to serious organizational consequences and reduce the validity of the work that is done.
The pressure to cover our costs has many positive effects; if we didn’t need to cover our costs, it would not matter how well we grow vegetables.  The push to be financially sustainable forces us to focus on efficiency and quality.  One of the primary reasons that we began our Community Supported Agriculture program in 1999 was to find a market in which we could earn a significant amount of money. This has been our answer to financial sustainability in the future.  It is also the type of distribution that demands a consistent supply of high quality vegetables.  The rigor that is involved in providing produce in this manner helps give structure and reason to the experience of the youth and volunteers who come to the farm.  They realize that not only are they growing food for shelters, but they are also providing food to people who are financially supporting the mission and work of the organization.
 
As on our suburban land, we are committed to using agricultural practices that are sustainable and reflective of the scale and programs which are run on our urban land. We define agricultural sustainability as a balance between production and renewal that allows our agricultural work to continue over a long period of time. On a practical level this means careful attention to soil health and fertility through practices such as crop rotation, composting, cover-cropping and careful tillage methods.
 
One of the advantages to growing in small spaces with a large volunteer and youth labor pool is that we have been able move away from using a rototiller for preparing the beds, relying instead on garden forks and people power to accomplish this task. While a rototiller can be a time-efficient tool for tillage, there is also a greater risk of compaction and destruction of soil tilth. For these reasons we have switched to turning beds by hand. We use a raised bed model, marking the beds each spring with corner stakes and string as we re-fork and shape the beds from the previous year. While we strive to incorporate compost with each new crop that is planted in a bed, we are not always able to do so, as we are limited in our ability to produce compost on site by the size of our land and the need to maintain piles that are aesthetically appealing to our neighbors. We use crop rotation and covercropping as other methods of increasing soil fertility.
 
As our soil improves, we aim to maximize production on our land by carefully spacing our plants as well as developing crop plans that ensure that beds are kept in production throughout the growing season. For instance,  we successfully developed a 3-crop rotation for some of our beds- our early plantings of brassicas that are harvested in June were followed by a quick growing buckwheat crop to rejuvenate the soil. In late July these beds were planted into fall root crops. By paying close attention to planting and harvest dates we continue to develop crop plans that ensure that beds are never left fallow and harvests are maximized.
Beyond multiple crop plantings, we also use a dibbler to mark our beds prior to planting to guarantee that the plants are spread evenly across the beds.  Using a dibbler, and experimenting with closer spacings of transplants and direct-seedings, allows us to maximize productivity. Because we do not rely on mechanical cultivation techniques, we are more able to space our crops close together.
Finally, we also try to start as many of our crops in the greenhouse as is feasible. By starting our first plantings of spinach, beets, annual herbs and other crops that are traditionally direct-seeded into fields, we are also able to increase our crop yields. Transplanting wherever possible means that we have greater control over the quality and spacing of the plants. This also means that the plants will be in the beds for a shorter period of time prior to harvesting and re-planting that bed. Using transplants rather than direct-seeding can often mean the difference between harvesting 2 or 3 crops out of a beds during a growing season.
 
 
The Food Project helped create the CRAFT program of eastern Massachsetts in 1998.  Its purpose is to offer agricultural training, provide a network of peers who are in similar roles on their farms, and to explore the diversity of farming operations in Eastern Massachusetts.  Our growers have been active in the formation and support of the CRAFT program.  The CRAFT website includes schedules, participating farms, and important links in sustainable agriculture.
The Food Project is committed to training future farmers.  We provide agricultural education opportunities to thousands each year thorough our youth and volunteer programs.  We also have a comprehensive training program for adults who hope to make farming their profession in the future.  Grower’s Assistant positions are available at both our Urban and Suburban farms each season. 
Grower’s Assistants are trained in all aspects of the farm operations including seedling propagation in our greenhouse, tractor usage, harvest techniques, managing work crews, distribution, marketing farm products, etc.  
We begin to advertise for positions for the next faming season in August/September.  If you are interested in becoming a Grower’s Assistant, please check our list of open positions.
 

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

Tax ID: 04-3262532

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