Urban Agriculture: Progress and Potential in Boston

Already at the forefront of the local food movement, Boston continues to become a better city for restauranteurs committed to sourcing foods locally and sustainably. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), in conjunction with the Mayor’s Food Council and Office of Food Initiatives, is hard at work developing plans to modify the city’s zoning regulations to permit and even encourage urban agriculture.

In addition to adding locations for farmers’ markets and farm stands, rezoning could also allow innovative rooftop, vertical, aquaculture and hydroponic farming, and change existing restrictions on keeping livestock and bees within city limits. As a pilot initiative, four sites in Dorchester have already been specially opened for agricultural development, and are in their second year under the management of City Growers and ReVision Urban Farm. A little background: ReVision Urban Farm is part of ReVision House’s work with homeless mothers in the Dorchester community, and provides produce to a number of farmers’ markets and a CSA, paired with educational and vocational training programs. Meanwhile, City Growers works to revitalize underused urban environments as economically and agriculturally productive spaces. Interested in learning more (or purchasing their produce)? City Growers can be contacted here.

Why is this good news for Boston chefs? For a start, these farms represent more opportunities to source fresh produce from within Boston’s city limits, providing higher-quality fresh produce. (See this article from our July 2010 newsletter for more on rooftop gardening as a cost-effective and sustainable option for restaurants.) Urban farms and other urban agriculture projects also create opportunities for recentering the conversation about where our food comes from, and why it matters.

While providing more healthy food is critical, especially to communities where fresh produce is limited, increasing access to gardens, farms, and beehives does the equally important work of engaging and educating consumers — as well as creating jobs in those same underserved communities. It’s the “teach a man to fish” principle: customers and participants with urban farms not only have greater access to healthy produce, but by being part of the process, they become informed consumers who understand the rhythms of seasonality, the marriage of hard work and good fortune that goes into creating quality produce, and above all, the sheer pleasure of fresh and honest food.

Everyone should have the right and ability both to have good food and to know where their food comes from, and new urban farms help to bring that understanding to communities who otherwise have little access either to fresh produce or first-hand awareness of the growing process. Expanding the potential of all its citizens to enjoy good food through changed zoning regulations is a huge step in the right direction for Boston.

Interested in finding out more? Check out the BRA’s supplementary materials and notes on recent meetings here.

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