If you’ve ever driven through the bustling streets of Northwest Buffalo, you may have suddenly come upon neighborhood lots filled with gardens and greenhouses. These may seem out of the ordinary but to Rich’s they fit right in.
These plots are the home of the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), founded in 2001. MAP’s mission is to grow diverse and equitable food systems, and its work centers around the Growing Green Program, a year-round urban agriculture and youth development program.
Through the program, youth spend time cultivating the organic gardens and learning about components of sustainable farm operation – including composting, aquaponics, and raising chickens. This intensive farm work is at the root of the program, but the education and development don’t stop there. While participating in Growing Green, participants have the opportunity to engage in multiple ways with the food system. One site of youth training is MAP’s mobile market, where produce grown in gardens as well as in other regional farms is distributed. Diane Picard, MAP’s Executive Director, says that the market, “targets neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores, and that don’t have easy access to fresh, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.” Growing Green participants also engage in other enterprise development projects. The program trains teens in all facets of social enterprise – including recipe-creation, focus groups for taste testing, budgeting, packing, and label design. The youth even travel to grocery stores and co-ops to pitch their products.
In addition to teaching about the production and distribution of food products, MAP is committed to developing youth leaders who are civically engaged and educated. Picard proudly says that participants learned to use their voices and leadership to create change in the community. “Our kids really showed leadership in getting our zoning code changed so that we now have urban agriculture allowances in our zoning code… They had community meetings around the city and held trainings for other youth. The city even asked us to do trainings with some adults!” Over the years, MAP youth also advocated for salad bars at all Buffalo public schools, and three teens have served on the Buffalo and Erie County Food Policy Council. This leadership has paid off for the city and for the youth themselves: in fact, over the last eight years, the Growing Green program has had a 95% success rate in its graduates attending college.
As MAP and Growing Green have developed and grown, one major challenge has been a lack of sufficient space for programming. Since 2005, when MAP lost its original building in a fire, Picard says that they’ve been “dreaming of getting back [to the original area], and having a building that will really serve our program.” They are in the process of building a new farmhouse and community food training center at their urban farm; the facility will have an outdoor classroom, two affordable housing units, a conference room, storage for the market truck, and a commercial kitchen.
The kitchen will be sponsored by Rich Products, which will serve a central role in the new building’s use. As Picard said, “Every year the kids say one of their favorite things about the program is the cooking and nutrition education piece,” and the new commercial kitchen will enhance MAP’s ability to offer food-based programming and workshops. Picard said that the new kitchen will also be beneficial because it provides a space to bring the culturally diverse community together. Once the kitchen is constructed, she envisions hosting cooking classes, lunches, and farm-to-table dinners for folks in the community.
With the construction of the new farmhouse building, MAP will continue to follow its mission of creating a more equitable food system for all and fostering the next generation of “home-grown” leaders.
Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP)