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Boston Farms creates community wealth, fosters food enterprises through shared land


Land is critical to food security. It is a core source of wealth and power in our society and the legal frameworks around it are costly and complex and make it very difficult for individuals to own land or get access to it for growing food.

That’s why we exist,” says Joy Gary, executive director of the Boston Farms Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that converts vacant land into urban farms in the Boston neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. “We want to reduce those barriers and create community wealth through shared land for the purposes of fostering food and farming enterprises that are led by community members of color.”

Founded in 2017 by the Urban Farming Institute (UFI), Boston Farms is able to buy vacant land from the City of Boston for $100 per parcel. Boston Farms then raises the necessary money to redevelop the land into a farm site.

Let's stay in touch Sign up for our newsletters SubscribePresently, Boston Farms owns and manages five commercial farm sites. Some sites are used by UFI to teach community members how to grow and distribute fresh food. Others are leased to local Black and Brown farmers who pay $50 a month throughout the growing season, a nominal fee that helps to cover a portion of the water and maintenance costs but a far cry from the actual costs of owning and managing the land, says Gary.

“Water installation alone can cost about $20,000. So many farmers can’t afford that, so we take on that cost to ease that burden so that farmers can actually farm.”

Those are the sorts of barriers to entry that Boston Farms is working to remove for farmers of color, work that is representative of a larger, broad-based movement to build social equity and promote healthy neighborhoods known as Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD), a community-anchored development strategy centering Black, Indigenous and People of Color food and agriculture projects and enterprises as vehicles for shared power, cultural expression and community asset building. In 2022, The Kresge Foundation awarded a total of $1 million in new grant funding to Boston Farms and seven other organizations that are building EFOD-aligned projects in their communities. These investments are in addition to more than $1 million in grants Kresge awarded to the eight EFOD projects in 2020.

Sabrina Pilet-Jones is one of the farmers who leases a small plot from Boston Farms where she grows flowers and herbs that she sells at farmers’ markets organized by UFI and also at Sabrina’s Garden and her C.S.A. As she explains, the access to land provided by Boston Farms is critical to her small business.

“I definitely would not be able to afford the land otherwise so I appreciate what Boston Farms is doing, which is creating a bridge. If I, as an urban grower, want to expand in the city, or even want to expand into someplace more rural, it’s a bit daunting when you see the financial commitments that come along with that. So they act as an incubator site and allow folks to act creatively and entrepreneurially and see if being a gardener or a farmer is really my big dream.”

Perhaps even more importantly, the access to land is important to her as a Black woman, says Pilet-Jones.

“Many of us don’t have a backyard, so these plots become our connection to nature. When I go to my plot and sit in my flower patch and invite my friends over and we do some work together in the dirt and maybe have tea, that’s a privilege, that’s an escape to nature. For people of color like me, it’s not just about growing but also about connecting us to the land, to dispelling our aversion to land that comes from the historical injustices of slavery. All of that gets unpacked when you step on these lots.”