Today I was invited to tour the grounds of Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). I have been a fan of MAP for a long time, and never pass up a tour given by members of the inspirational organization. Seeing that ground had recently been broken on the new Farm House, I figured I would get an inside glimpse into the inner workings of the operation before the fireworks start flying.
First things first. There are no chickens roaming the MAP lands at this time. Due to the upcoming construction, the birds have been sold off in preparation for the ground shaking disturbance. I would like to say that they were moved to safer grounds, but I was informed that they were sold for eating purposes. Oh well… on to the tilapia. Or not. I soon learned that the closed-loop aquaponic hoophouse was also in flux, and the only fish being raised at this juncture were koi. It turns out that due to the upcoming demolition/construction, the larger fish are not being raised at this time. The koi are actually being kept onboard in a sort of “canary in the coal mine” capacity. As long as the koi are alive and well, the hoop house ecosystem is doing well, and that means that everything is going according to plan.
Another part of the operation that I got to visit today was the Winter Street MAP garden, and after the tour I made a point to bike over to the new Breckenridge Street Youth Garden. It turns out that the youth garden is dedicated to “green” teens that are in the midst of learning the farming ropes.
This particular plot of land ensures that MAP youth can properly map out the lot, experiment with different plantings, harvest the crops, and then cook up the produce on Fridays for lunch. It’s a bit like a test garden that young people can seriously play around with in order to gain valuable life lessons.
Another real treat was getting an inside look at the Tomato House. There are vast amounts of tomatoes growing on the vines, which systematically get picked when they are ready to sell. I was surprised to learn that green tomatoes are the most popular, and show up at the Farm Stand (run by MAP) on Tuesdays after work (along with just about every other fruit and vegetable known to man and woman).
To see the entire operation firing on (almost) all cylinders was exciting. Since it was Tuesday, and the MAP Farm Stand was in ‘selling mode’, the community was engaging with the farm at optimal capacity.
Aside from wandering the grounds, it was a pleasure meeting a couple of MAP youth who were just getting off from their farm/kitchen duties.
Ben Hough told me that he grew up in North Buffalo, and that he had always had a certain bent towards living a sustainable life. “I’m all about food policy and eating healthy,” said the 20 year old. “I even have my own garden now. Eventually I want to be a doctor. At that point, I will take what I am learning here and apply it to influence my community. I believe that if people want to see change, they must make change. They must help themselves to create their own movements.”
Adam Picard-Park agreed with a lot of what Ben was saying. “This is my second summer,” the 18 year old told me. “Since I was little, I was exposed to food justice and food desserts. MAP has helped me with planning and organizing, which I will use when I enter into film School. By managing the kitchen part of the farm program, I have learned a lot about the operations, and living a healthy and sustainable life.”
Both Adam and Ben want to see MAP hook up with additional progressive organizations throughout the city. The more allies MAP has, the more people it can benefit down the road. They also want to see more MAP marketing initiatives, in order to get the MAP brand out into the community as a sort of household name. They are hoping that MAP sells t-shirts and sweatshirts in the future, similar to what People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) does.
Both of the young men say that they are now able to conduct full meal planning, by finding out what foods are available on the farm, then harvesting the crops, and finally cooking the meals. It’s complete farm-to-kitchen-to-plate life lessons. When I asked them when the last time they ate at McDonald’s was, they answered “Never” and “I can’t remember.” To me, that’s worth the price of admission.
Once the MAP Farm House opens, all of the MAP programming and initiatives will be super-sized. That’s when the real magic will occur. From pickling and canning opportunities, to retail, to educational components, food storage, and expanded partnership capabilities, MAP will be able to shine in ways that we can only imagine at this point.