The Food Project, An Interview with Sarah Wiggins
By Michaela Johnston
Since 1991, The Food Project has partnered youth with agriculture in order to promote food justice and social change. With over 70 acres of farmland in Boston, Beverly, Wenham, Lynn and Lincoln, the organization works with over 120 youths each year, both during summer and academic year programs.
“It started from the idea that if youth and adults come together in partnership through the shared work of farming, then we would able to create a more sustainable food system for all [and] closer communities,” said Sarah Wiggins, The Food Project Events and Volunteer Coordinator. “That was the basis and it has grown over the past 25 years.”
What can GDS volunteers expect while serving with the Food Project?
Either the youth or staff will lead the volunteers in whatever needs to be done on the farm that day. It could be planting, weeding, harvesting, preparing beds, or washing vegetables.
Farming sustainably is much more labor intensive and the help of volunteers is integral to our ability to provide for underserved communities. We have about 3,000 volunteers each year in the spring and fall that help us get everything planted…and getting the farm ready for the winter and fall.
What impact does the Food Project hope to leave upon the Greater Boston community?
The Food Project’s vision is to create a world where youth are active leaders, diverse communities feel connected to the land and each other and everyone has access to fresh, local, healthy, affordable food.
Basically, it’s trying to get youth that are active leaders in our world…to come out of The Food Project [and] bring social change into the world. And to create communities that have fresh, local healthy food that is affordable to them.
How do youth become involved with The Food Project?
When you’re 14-years-old you can apply to our Seed Crew program. During the summer, youth spend their mornings working together in the fields. In the afternoons, they participate in workshops that address a variety of issues, including sustainable agriculture, food access, and social justice. They also spend one day a week at a local hunger relief organization preparing and serving the produce they have grown. The youth develop leadership, teamwork, diversity, and civic participation skills. The youth are hired from urban and suburban areas. It’s a really diverse cohort of youth.
After, if they decide to apply again, they go on to our Dirt Crew program which is an academic year program. That takes place Saturdays and after school. They continue to do the programming, learning about social justice and food system reform and their main focus is building raised bed gardens in local communities in the Build-A-Garden program.
Finally, youth can move onto Root Crew. It’s a culmination of everything they’ve learned in Dirt Crew and Seed Crew. They lead our volunteer groups, give food access and food justice workshops in the community, have management roles at the farmers’ markets, and serve as spokespeople for Food Project events.
Where does the produce go?
All of the produce grown on The Food Project’s farms is distributed through CSA shares. Forty percent of all produce grown reaches underserved communities through donations to hunger relief organizations and through farmers’ markets in Dudley and Lynn that accept SNAP and EBT government benefits. The youth work in those hunger relief organizations on Wednesdays. They go and prepare and serve the food that they’ve grown.