The Collaborative has been working with Mill City Grows and the Springfield Food Policy Council to facilitate the MA Urban Ag Coalition. During regular Zoom calls, urban ag organizations from around the Commonwealth are discussing how they are changing their operations to respond to safety concerns and the increased need for healthy food in their communities, sharing resources, and identifying other opportunities for collective work and resource sharing. Calls thus far have focused on community garden and school garden changes, employing youth during the summer, and funding challenges and opportunities.
On the calls concerning funding many organizations shared that as a result of the COVID-19 crisis their costs for staffing and materials have increased, while their earned revenue from markets and farm stands is decreasing. As organizations have altered their food distribution models they have seen increased needs for staffing to pack and deliver food, more vehicles to transport the food, additional cold storage for produce, and technology for ordering systems. The new safety protocols have required purchasing many additional materials including hand washing stations, produce washing stations, tools so each person using the garden has their own, PPEs, and new boxes for each food distribution. Urban ag organizations would also benefit from additional technical assistance to build out online delivery platforms, develop virtual programs and virtual safety training, and create best practice protocols.
Participants have shared that community gardens and school gardens have established new safety protocols and eliminated shared tools. Some organizations that were able to access school gardens have invited families to grow food in specific areas. To meet the increased interest in backyard gardening many urban ag organizations are providing online education as well as necessary materials, including raised beds, soil, seeds and seedlings.
Organizations that typically employ youth during the summer to assist with farming and learn about food and social justice are altering their programs to balance the safety of the youth and staff with the goals of production, education, and providing quality jobs. Many are reducing the number of youth they are hiring and combining virtual learning with socially distanced on-farm work.
To encourage the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to include urban agriculture organizations when directing funds from the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program, the MA Urban Ag Coalition submitted a letter, signed by over 30 organizations.