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The Food Project

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Title: The Food Project  
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Subject: Urban development, Lincoln, Massachusetts, Community building
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The Food Project

the Food Project logo

The Food Project is a homeless shelters. The program emphasizes community building and fosters good work ethic, providing a good foundation for future employment.


  • History 1
  • Program overview 2
  • Program structure 3
  • Program sites 4
  • Community Supported Agriculture 5
  • Program milestones 6
  • Other activities 7
  • Support 8
  • External links 9


Founded in 1991 by Ward Cheney, a local farmer and educator, the Food Project (sometimes abbreviated as TFP) is a urban neighborhoods of Boston and the surrounding suburbs. The stated mission of The Food Project is:

Program overview

The core of The Food Project's program is employment of youth on farms in Lincoln and Roxbury, called the Summer Youth Program. Participants are hired in the Spring, with equal representation from the city and nearby suburbs, and are divided into crews of about 10 crew workers, an assistant crew leader and a crew leader. The program is 8 weeks long (now 6.5 due to budget), beginning in late June and ending in August to coincide with the Massachusetts public school calendar. There is also an academic year program and an internship program, both of which run throughout the year, though with fewer participants than the Summer Program.

While The Food Project is an employer, the experience it offers youth is far more extensive than most jobs. Throughout the summer, regular workshops are held to discuss community building, urban improvement, sustainable agriculture, and a wide variety of other related topics. Activities are designed to engage participants in discourse centered around particular themes. Educators are often recruited to lead these activities, which can include brainstorming, group discussion and journal writing. Flip charts, or large pads of paper mounted on easels, have become notoriously ubiquitous within the organization as a tool for these group discussions.

Crews are rotated throughout the growing season so each has experience working on the farms in Lincoln and Roxbury. In addition to doing farmwork and harvesting, all crews also work in local hunger-relief institutions like the Pine Street Inn, ReVision House and Urban Farm and Rosie's Place, where they help serve food cooked from the vegetables they grow. Using this paradigm, summer crew workers experience all aspects of their labor, from planting and harvesting to food donation.

The program also emphasizes good workplace practices by putting crew workers in unusually responsible roles. Feedback or "Straight Talk" is an important tool and members within a crew give each other feedback in the form of compliments and "deltas", or points for improvement.

Community lunches have also become a summer tradition at the Lincoln farms. Each week, a local chef or caterer is invited to cook lunch for crew workers, staff, parents and friends using vegetables grown and harvested by crews. Several noted chefs from Boston, Cambridge and surrounding areas have cooked at community lunches and have helped bring about a high level of awareness about the program.

Program structure

Participants are grouped into crews of 10 Crew Workers and are led by a Crew Leader. The Crew Leader is usually slightly older, around college age, and sometimes has had prior experience in the Food Project. Each crew also has an Assistant Crew Leader who helps lead the crew and is typically a returning Crew Worker. Each site has a Site Supervisor that oversees the function of the farm and manages the Crew Leaders. There are also several Growers who are knowledgeable in aspects of agriculture and organic farming and who advise and help maintain the lots. There are also several interns that help with the management and function of the program.

Hiring for all positions requires a formal application and interview, given once a year in the early Spring for summer crew workers. The application process can be somewhat selective as the program is popular, although the program deeply emphasizes diversity and a sense of inclusiveness, and all are encouraged to apply.

Program sites

The Food Project has two plots of land in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and several in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The North Shore branch has a 1-acre (4,000 m2) farm in Lynn and a 2-acre (8,100 m2) farm in Beverly. The main offices for The Food Project are located in Lincoln Center.

Community Supported Agriculture

One of the main tenets of The Food Project is that the land that the program uses is a part of the community and therefore must be integrated. One of the innovative ways in which this is accomplished is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), an agricultural model founded in Japan (teikei) and implemented in the U.S. by Indian Line Farm, in Massachusetts. In this model, local consumers buy a share of the farm's harvest. Produce from the harvest is then distributed at the farm to shareholders up to a defined limit. Selection and volume depends on the time of year, but freshness is frequently unmatched by standard retail vendors because the food can be consumed immediately after harvesting.

The Food Project's 400 member CSA Farm Share program offers fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers and has pickup locations in Lincoln, Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and Jamaica Plain. They publish a CSA Newsletter which is distributed to all shareholders weekly. Additionally, shareholders can harvest their produce themselves from specially designated plots at certain Food Project growing sites.

Program milestones

1991: Founded by Ward Cheney in conjunction with the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
1992: First growing season funded with $100,000 and farmed on a 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) plot on Drumlin Farm in Lincoln.
1995: Groundbreaking of the half-acre Langdon Street Lot in Roxbury.
1996: First growing season for the Langdon Street Lot.
1997: West Cottage Street Lot is cleared by summer crew workers and land is prepared for growing.
1998: A video, two books and many manuals document The Food Project's program and philosophy. The Rooted in Community Network is also co-founded.
2001: A neighborhood gardener lends some land, an undeveloped lot blocks away from the other two sites on Albion Street in Roxbury. Remediation completes in 2001 and growing begins in 2002.
2003: The Food Project launches BLAST, an international initiative focusing on the next generation of leaders, farmers and practitioners in food systems work.
2008: Partnering with the City of Boston, The Food Project pioneers the use of EBT/SNAP/food stamps at its farmers markets with a program called Boston Bounty Bucks.
2010: The Food Project receives a $600,000 stimulus grant from the Obama administration. US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius visits Boston land.

Other activities

In 2004, The Food Project was supported by the Cirque du Soleil through a donation of tickets to their Varekai Benefit performance at Suffolk Downs in Boston. Because of the show's history and origins in youth street performing, the donation was a sign of continued support to youth programs.

In 2005, The Food Project won the Mayor's Award for Excellence in Children's Health, given by the Boston Mayor's Office, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Children's Hospital Boston.


The Food Project receives support from a variety of local and national private foundations, corporations, nonprofits, government agencies, and other institutions. The program is also heavily supported by a growing group of devoted individuals and families.

External links

  • The Food Project Click here to view The Food Project's main site and access news, contact info, and application information for prospective crew workers.
  • The Food Project Blog for weekly updates from the fields
  • EarthNews Radio podcast about The Food Project
  • article on The Food Project
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