Local food in Massachusetts
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Our Food Work in Massachusetts

Making City Farms a Reality

Growing food in cities increases local communities’ access to healthy food, fosters community engagement, creates new business opportunities, and beautifies neighborhoods with green space.

Over the last several years, CLF and other stakeholders worked closely with the Boston Redevelopment Authority to amend Boston’s Zoning Code to allow commercial-scale urban farming in Boston. The effort to reform the Zoning Code began in 2010 when a local Boston business owner wanted to start a lettuce farm, but the local land-use regulations would not allow it. In response, former Mayor Menino and his Office of Food Initiatives launched an Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative with the goal of removing barriers to urban agriculture in Boston.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) convened a series of meetings of the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Working Group, comprised of farmers, farming advocates, experts from different sectors of the food industry, and neighborhood representatives. CLF worked with members of the Working Group and BRA staff, advocating for reasonable regulations that would not unduly burden urban farmers and food entrepreneurs seeking to operate in Boston.

Signed into law in December 2013, Article 89 is a national model for local regulation of urban agriculture. Article 89 allows commercial-scale farms up to one acre in all districts, and permits farm stands anywhere that a farm is allowed. By addressing a wide range of urban agriculture activities, Article 89 will increase access to healthy food, create job opportunities, and green Boston’s neighborhoods.

Protecting and Supporting Farms and Farmland in Suburban Communities

Agriculture is an important piece of land-use planning. Incorporating agricultural assets into a municipality’s master plan, open space plan, and other land-use planning documents ensures that the community protects these valuable resources and plans for the future growth of local food and farming.

CLF and CLF Ventures partnered with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to establish a Comprehensive Agricultural Planning project for the Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC). This group of 13 communities northwest of Boston is working together on regional issues. The MAGIC communities have the least densely populated land of the MAPC region, which makes them beautiful places to live, but also puts them at greater risk of losing their farmland to encroaching development.

The MAGIC Comprehensive Agricultural Planning project aims to increase the economic viability of farming and protect sustainable “foodsheds” (farms and agricultural soils close to metropolitan markets) within the towns, and to provide solutions for promotion and marketing. Along with MAPC, Land for Good, Sudbury Valley Trustees, Tufts New Entry Sustainable Farming, and the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, CLF and CLF Ventures developed a report with recommendations to assist communities in their efforts to support food production and marketing. The report discusses both how to incorporate agriculture in planning processes and how to use it as an economic development engine. The report also looks at various regulatory and non-regulatory frameworks for cities and towns to support local agriculture and best practices for farm succession and transfer in order to keep farmland in agriculture.

Growing Green: The Benefits of Urban Agriculture in Boston

Tremendous excitement is building around the issues of local food production and agriculture. In the face of so many seemingly intractable environmental and economic challenges, agriculture – and the promise of urban agriculture in particular – can be a real means to reclaim and rebuild our connection with each other and our environment.

In late 2010, CLF and CLF Ventures partnered with City Growers—a Boston-based agricultural enterprise—to analyze the potential for job creation within Greater Boston’s agriculture sector and the environmental benefits of such businesses. In particular, CLF Ventures looked at the potential impacts of creating 50 acres (about the size of Boston Common) of urban farmland in Boston. Our detailed analysis shows that expanding urban agriculture in the city would bring significant economic, environmental, and health benefits. As documented in our report, Growing Green: Measuring Benefits, Overcoming Barriers, and Nurturing Opportunities for Urban Agriculture in Boston, if commercial urban farms put 50 acres of currently underutilized land into food production, they would:

  • Create between two and five direct, on-farm jobs per acre, or between 130 and 220 jobs across the 50 acres. More jobs will be created to provide services to these emerging businesses, including equipment sales, composting and soil inputs, and food processing.
  • Potentially sequester approximately 112 tons of carbon dioxide in well-maintained soil per year. They would also help mitigate additional greenhouse gas emissions by creating demand for compost made from food waste.
  • Help divert 35% of Boston food waste from landfills – a stated goal of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – allowing the City to avoid emitting another 43,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
  • Generate approximately 1.5 million pounds of fresh produce for sale into local markets, providing local communities with a nearby source of healthy food.

Though based on an initial analysis of 50 acres, these results are presumably scalable to a much greater share of an estimated 800-plus acres of vacant land in Boston proper, as well as additional land in surrounding cities and towns.

View the Growing Green Report.