An Urban Harvest

By Jarrod Denson / January 17, 2013

When Dr. Oz wrote an article in Time magazine last month and said, “Organic food is great, it’s just not very democratic,” he clearly wasn’t talking about the four-acre organic farm in Boston that feeds more than 800 of the city’s homeless daily.

The Serving Ourselves Farm on Long Island in Boston Harbor is the first and only certified organic farm in the city of Boston. The brainchild of Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino, it is run by a city-based nonprofit, Friends of Boston’s Homeless (FOBH), and provides 25,000 pounds of produce per year (and approximately 350 eggs per week from the Rhode Island Reds that live there). Several beehives, managed without chemicals, help the farm pollinate crops and increase harvests. Some years, the hives also produce enough honey to sell at the local farmers’ market.

“About 80 percent of the annual bounty is used by our shelter’s kitchen to feed the homeless men and women it serves,” says FOBH Executive Director Mariann Bucina. “The additional 20 percent is sold at farmers’ markets that serve an ethnically-diverse and largely low income population and accept EBT and WIC coupons,” she continues.

In addition, some of Boston’s renowned restaurants, including Hamersley’s Bistro, Ashmont Grill and Tavolo, purchase produce from the Farm. The bountiful harvest enables the nonprofit to save money it would have had to spend to purchase vegetables to feed its homeless constituency.

The Farm also provides jobs and training for the homeless, who are paid a living wage to grow and harvest the food. It is part of a larger program, the Serving Ourselves Job Training Program, which helps develop job skills while providing shelter, meals, education and counseling. The project is supported through a partnership with the city of Boston, and FOBH raises about $60,000 per year through foundation/corporate grants, individual donations and an annual fundraiser, the Chefs’ Harvest Dinner, prepared by top area chefs. The Farm also offers farm shares (CSAs) to the community, and the revenue generated through sales at farmers’ markets, CSAs, and restaurant sales is put back into the program to help support the Farm’s annual operating expenses.

Why is organic important? According to Bucina, the mission is “to feed hungry bodies, minds and spirits with the best produce possible, by providing beautiful, first harvest, organic produce to people who would otherwise likely not have access to it.”

“The experience gained in these programs has led to permanent, gainful employment in the restaurant, food, horticulture and landscaping industries,” she adds. “For example, one started a landscaping business, one went to work with a well-known florist in Boston and another pursued her education and employment in floriculture.” Sounds very democratic to me.