urban sustainability in the heart of Buffalo

By Katie Coleman

The Massachusetts Ave. Project (MAP) converted an acre of vacant lots into an urban garden that now serves Buffalo’s west side with fresh produce, filling their grocery store gap and helping educate and employ youth in an area where opportunities are scarce.

The west side is dotted with corner stores that may be convenient, but don’t offer the variety of healthy options that grocery stores do. MAP acknowledged the neighborhood’s challenge, and created a local food system for access to local, nutritious food.

The farm features a vermiculture composting system, a 1000-gallon rainwater catchment system, floral and perennial garden beds, urban chickens, two greenhouses, and aquaponics systems that raise fish and plants.

“MAP provides jobs for youth and fresh, affordable food for local people,” Eh Soe, a senior at Riverside HS, posted on MAP’s blog. “There are many people that don’t have the money, transportation, or time to go buy fresh food.”

Twenty-eight youth spent six weeks working at MAP this summer, training in nutrition and enterprise, communications, and farming. Previously employed youth assisted as specialists on their farm, mobile market, social media, or in the kitchen. Every Friday they prepared and shared a meal together with their fresh fruits and vegetables.

“MAP is beginning to change my life because they tell us how food and our health matters,” Ingabire Adam posted on MAP’s blog. “At first I didn’t like to eat veggies, but now I’m starting to.”

Many of these youth are from low-income families, and MAP aspires to propel them forward in school and the workforce through their summer job experiences. They meet with local farmers and business owners to learn about business management, marketing, sales and accounting, and pass on their knowledge about the benefits of local food systems to the community.

Khadijah Hussein, a Kenya native, came to Buffalo in 2006 and will be a junior at International Prep this year. She has been with MAP for three summers now, and this summer worked as a Mobile Market Specialist for MAP’s Growing Green Mobile Market, which travels across Buffalo to sell seasonal vegetables, fruits, and eggs through November.

Hussein was working when a Somali woman came to MAP’s farm stand searching for collard greens to cook a traditional dish. She had tried searching among the vegetables at Tops, but was overwhelmed with the variety of greens and foreign labels she couldn’t read. Khadijah was able to speak to her in Somali, and prepared two big bags full of produce for her. The lady left happy and was able to make her purchase with her EBT card. Experiences like this have helped Hussein learn patience and how to help her community make healthy food choices, according to Kerri Bejger, MAP Your Future program coordinator.

Upcoming events on the farm include their seventh annual Tour de Farms on Sept. 12, a 35 mile bicycle tour of local, urban and rural farms, to celebrate sustainable transportation and the local food system. Spots can be reserved at tourdefarmsbuffalo.org. MAP Your Future, a free college and career advising service, starts in late September. It’s open to all high school students, and an informational meeting will be announced soon at mass-ave.org.