YouthGROW (Growing and Raising Organics in Worcester)
A Local Food System Grows an Alternative Economy
By Matt Feinstein, YouthGROW
How to Start Meeting Economic Needs
An economy should fulfill three basic human necessities of a
sustainable community: 1) food, 2) a healthy environment, and 3) a genuine
sense of security and safety.
YouthGROW, an urban agriculture and environmental justice youth
program, along with several other affiliated and partnering community-
based organizations, is working to tackle the first two of these needs for
its inner-city neighborhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. YouthGROW’s
agri- cultural and community organizing initiatives significantly
contribute to community centers, grassroots activist organizations, food
pantries, a local restaurant, a natural food cooperative, and community
gardens within a ten block radius of the farm. This re-localized emphasis
on organic food production, cooperative business, and community-based
health efforts provides a concrete alternative to the profit-driven,
environmentally destructive, and exploitative economy that currently
reigns number one.
YouthGROW emerged out of the Regional Environmental Council’s
community gardens program, Urban Garden Resources Of Worcester (UGROW),
which helps community groups transform derelict lots into community-run
gardens and green spaces. The YouthGROW Reaching Out team will assist the
formation of two new garden groups while sharing their organic agriculture
expertise with four of Worcester’s most active community gardens (Castle
Street, Oread Place, Hawley Street, and Richard Street).
We grow food for ourselves, our neighbors, and those who need it.
In the first year of the summer program’s existence, youth and staff
grew 750 pounds of organic produce on a previously abandoned half-acre
urban lot. YouthGROW has recently begun its second year and provides
employment for fourteen teenagers and serves as a model urban farm.
YouthGROW distributes the freshest possible vegetables in the form of
mutual aid to the Mustard Seed food pantry, Centro Las Americas (Latino
youth food distribution center), Food Not Bombs (which gives out food and
do-it-yourself literature), and also to participants’ families and
neighbors. The young community leaders also market their produce to two
businesses one block away the ARTichoke Food Cooperative and One Love
Café (a one-woman owned and run Jamaican restaurant). Though this project
is local, it is significant for the struggling Worcester neighborhood.
Efforts total over 3,100 person-hours, $4,000 worth of organic produce,
and sixteen employment opportunities per year.
We make toxic places into healthy spaces.
In collaboration with a grassroots soil-remediation group (Worcester
Roots Project http://www. recworcester.org/roots.htm), teens
examine lead contamination and the disproportionate number of cases of
lead poisoning in communities of color and poor areas of Worcester. They
also test new, affordable soil cleaning techniques using plants and
compost. Test sites of the Worcester Roots Project, such as the YouthGROW
Community Farm and other neighborhood yards, host home-propagated scented
geraniums and other "phyto-remediators" (plants that clean).
YouthGROW, along with many other groups around the world who are part
of the urban agriculture and environmental justice movements, is tackling
the question, "How do we create alternative economic and social
systems that provide food and safe places for children to grow up,
especially in neglected urban city centers?" The next step is to take
the project’s community empowerment education to the next level to deal
with community security. In collaboration with Worcester Global Action
Network and the proposed Harm Free Zones (http://www.WoGAN.org/ hfz.rtf),
communities dissatisfied with policing or violence can build awareness,
skills, and mediation bodies from the ground up to deal with security
issues, while also maintaining their autonomy.
For more information, see our web site: http://www.recworcester.org/ugrow.htm,
check out our YouthGROW Local Food System map, and contact Matt
Feinstein: at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was originally written for and
included in the Other Economies Are Possible Reader; see www.othereconomies.org.
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