The purpose of my story map was to explore the role of urban gardening in Boston in food accessibility, justice, and community development in the city. My story map begins with the World War II Victory Gardens, located in the Back Bay Fens of the Emerald Necklace. The Fenway Victory Gardens are the last remaining World War II Victory Gardens in the United States. Originally meant to serve as a source of food for the American population during the war, the Victory Gardens now have a somewhat different, more comprehensive purpose. The site is split up into over 500 gardens which are tended by over 375 citizens. In addition to bringing together residents of the city’s many different neighborhoods through the shared love of gardening, the gardens also serve as a source of food for many of the city’s less fortunate, as it donates surplus food to the Greater Boston Food Bank. The Victory Gardens are an example of an asset that increases the involvement of the members of the community it is located in as well as exists as part of the “food justice” world by providing meals for those who might not otherwise be able to eat. The gardens, because of this role in the Boston community, sets the stage for the theme that the rest of my sites will follow.
Majority of the sites within my transect are garden sites, all of which give back to or engage the community in some way, including increasing access to nutritious food by disadvantaged communities or enabling members of the local area to maintain a garden of their own as part of a larger agricultural site. ReVision Urban farm, which is a community-based urban farming project with two different farm sites located in Dorchester, helps to feed the homeless with the produce it grows as well as low-income community members through free and low-priced produce. Not only does the project serve to feed less advantaged members of the community, it also participates in community enrichment through providing job training for those who are homeless as well as youth in the community, and also educates its members on sustainable urban farming practices.
Similar in purpose and scope to the ReVision Urban Farm project is the what is known as The Food Project. The Food Project, with a focus on sustainable farming practices, is an organization that aims to increase healthy food accessibility for its surrounding community, particularly youth and those of diverse backgrounds. The Food Project is a nationally recognized non-profit organization which employs youth to work on its many community farms. Produce is sold through several local farmer’s markets, including the Dudley Town Common Farmers’ Market, which helps support local sellers, maintaining a focus on keeping prices affordable for the communities it sells in. In addition, the Food Project also helps fund a number of hunger relief organizations. The project has been located in the Dudley neighborhood since 1998 and expanded to Lynn in 2018.
Projects like the two mentioned are a significant part of Boston’s landscape because they help increase the autonomy and food accessibility of the communities they serve, but they also call attention to the continued problem of urban segregation and social injustice within the city. The neighborhoods which these projects and similar projects within this transect serve are all majority black, which raises the question of why majortiy-black neighborhoods often coincide with disadvantaged neighborhoods where access to things like nutritional food is lower and need is greater. The answer to this question can largely be found in the city’s history of segregation implemented by the government, mirroring similar practices that occurred throughout the country, and forcing non-white citizens into segregated neighborhoods that were destined for disrepair and squashed nearly any opportunity for economic and social advancement. Because of the segregation of the city coupled with an already hostile and oppressive society for non-whites, particularly blacks, these communities still to this day exist in neighborhoods separate from whites and the higher economic status more easily attainable for those living in white neighborhoods.
Another racial concern relating to Boston’s urban gardens in not who they serve, but who they don’t serve. Specifically, the Victory Gardens in the Emerald Necklace are meant to be an attraction to people from a diverse array of communities, but there is some concern over who the gardens are truly accessible to. The gardens are on a landscape surrounded by expensive high-rise condos and fancy office buildings, which may make it feel less welcoming or less accessible for those from lower-income neighborhoods. This dynamic reveals how even entities that are meant to be for everyone, such as community gardens, can amplify an existing racial and economic divide within the greater community.
Although community organizations like Revision urban farms and the Food Project help bolster disadvantaged communities, they do little when it comes to wide-scale structural change. One of the initiatives within my transect which I believe does offer a structural approach to improving the condition of such communities is The New Garden Society. The New Garden Society is an organization that partners with Massachusetts prisons to educate and engage incarcerated community members in agriculture and gardening. The goal of this project is to provide a therapeutic outlet as well as vocational experience for those who are imprisoned, which can be an important tool in rehabilitation and transformation of those convicted, increasing the chances of a productive life outside of prison rather than simply re-offending and becoming part of an endless cycle of incarceration. I believe this is an example of structural change because it is increasing the chances of people who would otherwise be unlikely to contribute in a significant way to their communities to do just that. Lower re-offending rates and higher meaningful rehabilitation through therapeutic experiences and gained vocational skills has the potential to increase the productivity and prosperity of individual people, families, and communities that are disproportionately affected by incarceration. This is especially true for the youth members of the program for whom an initiative like The New Garden Society is even more important due to being at an earlier stage in life.
Others among the most notable projects along my transect are The Daily Table grocery store, a not-for-profit grocer located in Dudley that provides local, affordable, and nutritious food to the members of its community, many of which would otherwise not have access to such food, and Haley House Bakery Cafe, an organization which runs a variety of programs including an after-school program teaching health, nutrition, and culinary arts to local youth and temporary employment and job training for the formerly incarcerated. Although each of the urban farming and food justice projects within Boston are a great asset to the city and help a large number of people, the overall racial makeup of the communities they serve call attention to the need to desegregate Boston’s still largely segregated neighborhoods and combat racial economic inequality on a larger, more structural scale.