The Wonder of Urban Farming
Jessica Young (she/her) is a 2022 Summer Fellow with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, working with the Office of Food Justice and GrowBoston to assess the food sovereignty grants from 2021 and to plan a community gathering connecting growers and eaters.
On our first day as summer fellows, we were asked to consider MONUM’s mission and values. At the time, finding delight was the value that sparked my curiosity, and I’ve considered it each day since. But over the course of my project with MONUM, a new value has emerged: wonder.
I’ve come to define wonder as delight that is amplified by context. Consider urban farming operations in Boston: Round Table Inc. produces hundreds of pounds of fresh produce grown in milk crates, the strong community of growers and residents surrounding Eastie Farm began with a sliver of land slightly larger than a suburban driveway, and Haley House transformed parcels slated for development into thriving urban farmland. While visiting these sites and speaking with farmers, staff, and community members I was filled with wonder at the impact of these farms, in spite of the challenges inherent to farming in a dense urban area.
For me, two threads tie together these moments of wonder.
The first is a local connection with the land. The communities that these organizations have built around planting, maintaining, harvesting, and distributing fresh produce are deeply rooted in their neighborhoods. Haley House has installed raised beds on three sites maintained by Roxbury residents and the participants of the Youth Build Boston program, which provide not only food for harvest, but also the emotional and physical benefits that come with working land. Eastie Farm’s Climate Corps program employs kids from East Boston to learn and communicate about climate change adaptation and resilience through work they do on the farm.
The second thread is creativity. With limited land and materials, producing food sustainably and successfully necessitates a creative approach to growing. When George Benner of RoundTable Inc. was given access to hundreds of milk crates, he saw the potential for a flexible, inexpensive addition to the raised beds his organization built and maintained. Today, you’ll find a sea of crates filled with soil and planted with culturally relevant foods for the residents of the Mary Ellen McCormack housing site, all maintained by the young people who call this place home.
To feel wonder is to understand the context in which Boston’s urban farming community puts food on the tables of those who need it — to feel the delight of bok choy and tomatoes growing in milk crates in a South Boston courtyard, zucchini overflowing from a raised bed in Roxbury, and corn growing side-by-side with beans and squash on a rainy day in East Boston.
For more information about the farms, visit:
Jessica is a New Urban Mechanics Fellow, problem-solver, investigator, and listener. She is interested in climate adaptation, disaster resilience, land use planning, and the role equity plays in the future of cities. She believes the power of information is not in its complexity, but rather how clearly and honestly it can be conveyed and used to create change, particularly when applied to technical information and data. In addition to her work as a New Urban Mechanics Fellow, Jessica is currently completing research on green infrastructure for micro-flood mitigation projects in Austin. She currently resides in Jamaica Plain but has lived in seven cities in the Metro Boston area. You can find her exploring wetlands across the state, dancing (most recently: two-stepping in Texas), and reading on the train.
About the Fellowship:
The New Urban Mechanics Summer Fellowship is designed for entrepreneurial students and professionals interested in working in public service. During this highly selective eight-week program, summer fellows work as a team and on their own projects, generating and implementing creative and thoughtful new prototypes to benefit the City of Boston.