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First Annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference

First in a Series of Articles on the Urban Farming Conference

The first annual Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference (UFC) took place on March 9, 2013 at Roxbury Community College.

Designed as a forum to share information on the growth of farming in urban communities, the ultimate goal of the UFC is to map out a vision for urban farming in Massachusetts.  This includes not only advancing the opportunities but also addressing the barriers involved in cultivating a thriving urban farming sector.

The Food Project in Roxbury The Food Project in Roxbury

Photos are from The Food Project sites in Roxbury.

A History of Urban Farming

Victory gardens were introduced into the lifestyle of Americans (and other nations as well) during World War I and World War II as a way to reduce the demand on the public food supply brought on by the war effort.  Also known as war gardens or "food gardens for defense," these names have been dropped but original Victory gardens continue to exist here in Boston in the Fenway.  See Best Community Garden Award to Ed Debortoli. 

The focus of the Victory garden effort was encouraging vegetable, fruit and herb gardens at private residences and in public areas.  But they brought a surprise benefit over and above augmenting the "food supply."  Victory gardens were considered a civil "morale booster" because gardeners felt empowered by their contribution of labor and rewarded by the produce grown. This made victory gardens a part of daily life on the home front.

In 1978, there was such an abundance of community gardens throughout the City of Boston that the US Department of Agriculture was inspired to establish an urban county extension service. They also created a special "urban farmer" designation for Suffolk County food producers.

Today, across the spectrum of participants - Gov. Patrick as the top elected official, residents (consumers) and urban farmers (food producers) - everyone is in concert with the same goal - bringing healthy, local foods to the Commonwealth. 

The urban farming sector includes many stakeholders:  farmers, composters, planners, landowners, community leaders, investors, consumers, youth, entrepreneurs and those in the "farming bleachers" who are enthusiastic about "growing local."

Two Urban Farming Organizations at the Conference

City Growers, a for-profit urban farming enterprise, is noteworthy in their accomplishments over the past three years.  They have converted vacant lots into urban farms and successfully achieved their goal of growing for market.  Currently, they are farming about an acre of land spread over four sites in Roxbury and Dorchester.

The Urban Farming Institute (UFI) was formed to build successful farm enterprises in Massachusetts urban communities. They are dedicated to converting urban vacant land to farms and to training urban residents on how to grow for market.

Posted: March 18, 2013     Nancy J Conrad

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