A few years ago a vacant city-owned parcel on Sumner Street that had sat idle for decades was finally slated for development by the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND).
DND officials met with neighbors through a series of community meetings to get a sense of what the community wanted to see at the site.
Weary of another residential development in Jeffries Point, Eastie resident Kannan Thiruvengadam came forward with friends and neighbors and suggested an ‘urban farm’ for the vacant lot.
After a bit of negotiations with the city Eastie Farms was established in 2015.
Since then Eastie Farms has worked to improve food access and community resilience by developing interactive urban agricultural spaces where residents of all ages and backgrounds learn to grow healthy, locally grown and culturally relevant foods.
Through a grassroots community effort residents were able to transform the city-owned lot on into a thriving urban oasis that uses organic growing methods as well as resiliency strategies to grow fresh produce in the neighborhood.
Last week, Mayor Martin Walsh announced $100,000 in competitive grant funding from the City of Boston’s Grassroots Program to Eastie Farm.
The new City of Boston’s Grassroots funding will enable Eastie Farm to upgrade their space in Jeffries Point with a new water connection, create a retaining wall, build a tool shed, produce an ADA-compliant ramp, provide stormwater management equipment, build raised garden beds, and update the landscaping and irrigation.
These improvements will beautify the garden, and allow it to be more accessible and engaging to residents, and will support Walsh’s urban agriculture agenda, which is designed to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods across Boston.
“The Grassroots program supports gardening opportunities in all of Boston’s neighborhoods. Green spaces benefit both gardening enthusiasts and neighbors alike by serving as a gathering place and providing opportunities for healthy fresh food right in our backyards,” said Walsh. “We are pleased to support the success of the Eastie Farm, and I want to thank the residents of East Boston for their work in turning this once vacant lot into an urban oasis.”
When he helped establish Eastie Farms, Thiruvengadam said the statement the community was trying to make is that vacant city-owned land does not have to be a building but it can be greenspace, it can be open space for all to enjoy.
Before last week’s grant announcement Thiruvengadam said Eastie Farm and its volunteers had to be creative in order to get water onto the site.
One such plan was helping the neighbors on either side of Eastie Farm on Sumner Street. Thiruvengadam explained how these neighbors were experiencing problems with storm water during heavy rains, a phenomenon that will increase as the climate warms. Thiruvengadam and Eastie Farm volunteers redirected both abutting properties’ downspouts onto the Eastie Farms’s property in order to gather rainwater. The rain water was collected in large barrels and then used to water the plants and veggies growing at Eastie Farms.
“The lot did not have city water so we had to improvise,” said Thiruvengadam. “The neighbors were suffering chronic water damage to their foundations from storm water and when there was too much rain they were having flooding because the water had no place to go. We turned that recaptured rainwater into something good and were able to grow vegetables. I like to call this ‘From Extreme Flood to Extreme Food’. We are going to have to deal with extreme precipitation in the future and one way to deal with that is to turn it into something good.”
Since transforming the vacant lot Eastie Farm has hosted more than 300 volunteers, donated over 1,000 pounds of fresh produce, herbs, and fruits to food security organizations in Eastie, and given more than 400 seedlings of food-bearing plants as well as gardening supplies to community members engaged in gardening. In 2016, they won the City of Boston Greenovate Award for Community Engagement.
“We at Eastie Farm believe social resiliency can be achieved by people connecting with nature and each other. What better way to do this than by growing flowers and food in spaces that are walkable from home and open to all? Hundreds of East Boston residents of all walks of life have found the green open spaces we created for them welcoming, entertaining, and educational,” said Thiruvengadam. “Both neighborhood youths and school students have found great joy in engaging physically with the space in many ways, from putting seeds in the soil to chasing butterflies. And food-insecure East Boston residents have enjoyed what is otherwise too expensive (fresh, organic, local produce) via the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen and Crossroads Family Shelter, if not by harvesting produce directly at the farm. We thank Mayor Walsh and City of Boston in joining hands with us in the empowerment of our community.”
Shani Fletcher, who runs the Grassroots Program at DND, said the city was excited to be investing in this vibrant community effort to increase food access and beautify the neighborhood.
“Eastie Farm really exemplifies the best of community engagement in their work to revitalize this vacant lot, and we are excited to see what they are able to do with the addition of Grassroots funding,” she said.