There was a lot to celebrate at Eastie Farm last week.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilor Lydia Edwards joined Eastie Farm Founder and Director Kannan Thiruvengadam and a whole host of volunteers and residents that have benefited from the farm to celebrate funding by the city to expand the farm as well as honor the farm’s work throughout the COVID pandemic.
Janey made the announcement last Monday during a tour and celebration at the farm on Sumner Street. Janey said the city has awarded Eastie Farm $332,400 in Grassroots and Community Preservation Act funding that will be spread across the farm’s sites on Summer Street and Meridian Street. The money will also be used to expand the farm as part of a recent land conveyance on Chelsea Terrace from the City of Boston’s Grassroots Program.
The expansion to 6 Chelsea Terrace will create a community gathering space and a geothermal greenhouse for growing food and engaging school children in experiential learning.
“The Grassroots Program supports gardening and farming opportunities in all of Boston’s neighborhoods,” said Janey. “I am excited to announce the recent renovation and expansion of this beautiful community farm in East Boston. I want to also honor and thank the Eastie Farmers for their commitment to the East Boston community, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We are pleased to support the success of Eastie Farm, and I want to thank the farmers and residents of East Boston for their work.”
The City of Boston’s Grassroots funding already enabled Eastie Farm to expand and upgrade their space on Sumner Street 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.
The new improvements will beautify the farm, increase its accessibility and engagement with residents and support urban farming in Boston, which is designed to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods across Boston.
“We want to thank Mayor Janey for supporting community-led efforts and for celebrating the successes of bottom-up solution-building,” said Thiruvengadam. “Eastie Farm grows food and builds community. A little kid pulls out her first carrot here. An immigrant women’s cooperative is launched here. Many hands together plant a tree here. With the help of support from the City of Boston, foundations, and community members, East Boston has turned the abandoned lot at 294 Sumner into a community asset: supporting food security; serving as an informal learning space for growing food, building soil, conserving rainwater, and reducing food waste; and providing a relaxing open green space in an otherwise dense urban block.”
In 2020, Eastie Farm received over $300,000 in grant funding through the Boston Resiliency Fund to tackle food insecurity in Eastie and respond to the growing pandemic. With this funding, they spearheaded an effort to provide hot healthy meals for food-insecure individuals in their community.
At last week’s event Thiruvengadam explained how Eastie Farm, like many other groups, had to switch gears during the pandemic to address growing food insecurities in Eastie. They partnered with local Bon Me restaurant locations, which helped the Eastie Farm team provide over 5,000 meals per week to Eastie and Chinatown residents. Their work with the Boston Resiliency Fund enabled Eastie Farm to buy these meals at cost, helping restaurants stay in business and even paying community members a living wage to deliver these meals.
Thiruvengadam said by turning the farm into a meal and produce distribution spot, the space proved integral in the areas resiliency during the food crisis caused by the COVID-19 shutdown.
They also partnered with Tawakal Halal Cafe to provide halal meals to the community, stressing that it was important for recipients of these meals to get food that is not only healthy and hot but culturally appropriate.
“Eastie Farm has been an incredible partner in helping us live our community values, while also ensuring business sustainability,” said the owner of Tawakal Halal Cafe Yahya Noor. “Without Eastie Farm, we would not have gotten through the first part of the crisis before any other form of support became available. Eastie Farm has made us feel welcome in the East Boston family and held our hands in getting integrated. This is a sincere organization, a rare find, more than just a farm, and an asset for families in the community. I want to thank the City of Boston for supporting organizations like Eastie Farm and mom-and-pop businesses like Tawakal Halal Cafe.”
The community process for Eastie Farm effort began in 2014, which included a partnership between the City of Boston and East Boston residents, who have been active in both the redevelopment and management of the new farm and garden space. The redevelopment of this land on Summer Street, Meridian Street, and 6 Chelsea Terrace has been funded by more than $282,400 in Grassroots Funding and $50,000 in Community Preservation Act Funding.
Established in 2015, Eastie Farm is dedicated to pursuing climate justice, improving food access, and fostering community resilience through the development of interactive urban agricultural spaces and environmental education programs. Programming encourages residents of all ages and backgrounds to learn and take part in the production of healthy, locally-grown, and culturally relevant foods.
“Now we offer a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program to increase the availability of locally grown fresh and healthy produce to residents,” said Thiruvengadam. “And we host budding musicians, comedians, and other artists. It’s a fun, positive, and active community space. With city and state funds, we look forward to setting up 6 Chelsea Terrace, just conveyed to us by the City of Boston, with a greenhouse for use as a nursery and a year-round learning space, powered by clean renewable energy. Spaces like 294 Sumner and the collaborative work of organizations like Eastie Farm with government and the private sector are a testament of the collective power and resiliency of our society.”
Since transforming the vacant lot, Eastie Farm has planted several fruit trees, hosted more than 300 volunteers, donated more than 5,000 pounds of fresh produce, herbs, and fruits to food security organizations in East Boston, and given more than 2,000 seedlings of food-bearing plants, as well as gardening supplies to the community members engaged in gardening. In 2016, they won the City of Boston Greenovate Award for Community Engagement.
“Before I got involved with Eastie Farm, like most of my friends, I used to think my life is about my own success,” said Eastie resident and Eastie Farm volunteer Salvador Cartagena. “Now, I understand it’s about the well-being of my community. A resilient community is critical to the health and safety of every individual in that community, especially the most vulnerable. I want to thank all the partners for helping make this farm a reality for the East Boston community.”