Boston Takes a Seat at the Good Food Table
by John Lee

So, the other day the phone rings and it is someone from the mayor’s office and I think, ‘Uh-oh, here comes a new set of rules and regulations that really help no one and really hurt the farm operator. Now what’s up?’

But, no. It seems as though we in Boston—the last working farm, so called—have spawned a host of smaller siblings, cousins and wannabes who just can’t get off the idea that eating local, growing your own and putting food by are not passé ideas last brought to the fore by the 1960s potheads.

There is such a swell to the idea that the mayor’s office, to its credit, has glimpsed the writing on the wall and determined that “slow food” is an idea whose time has come, can no longer be ignored in the front office and is worthy of note. No longer can the self-sufficiency movement be caged in 20 by 20 community garden plots sparsely scattered about the city. Pop-Tarts now have to fight with homemade bread for a seat at the table. Move over, cello carrot nubs, toxic-laden drumettes and cardboard pasta. The whole family is getting into cooking, gardening and backyard farming.

This is incredibly gratifying for a farmer who might be getting a little long in the tooth. Who would have imagined even 10 years ago that iceberg lettuce would be sneezed at in the produce department only to be found shredded in cheap submarine sandwiches or resurrected by restaurateurs as chic “hearts” with calorie-laden, gloppy dressing?  Even the reliable romaine has fallen from favor as it is unceremoniously marginalized by minority species like Black Jack, the incomparable Galisse and an army of chicory relatives.

Ah, yes; the taste buds are in revolt thanks in part to the media onslaught of stomach-turning films, creative and easy cuisines (rife with detailed explanations of how to work with food), endless TV exposés on the dangers lurking in our eat-it-and-get-it-over-with diet and natural curiosity.

The mayor has gotten the message and, apparently, instead of putting his foot down on the dangers of feeding yourself, it would seem that he has decided to open the doors and see what can be done in Boston to enhance the viability of safe “urban” agriculture. He has gotten the message that it makes environmental sense to promote roof-top gardens on new construction, green walls to promote resource conservation, more community gardens on city-owned land to promote food availability in the land of food deserts, thus moving the city toward the creation of a more sustainable lifestyle. Maybe it is the plethora of successful restaurants featuring locally raised foods. Maybe it is the abundance of very popular neighborhood farmers markets. Perhaps it is the energy and buzz about food security and food justice.

I hope it is not just political pandering in an off year.Whatever the root, there is a remarkable hue and cry from the hustings for bees, poultry and small livestock in our backyards, unadulterated meat, fresher fish, minimal food miles and better, more accessible fare for our families. Would it not be nice if Boston (one of the culinary capitals of these United States) were also to become an urban farming pioneer and demonstrate some long-overdue leadership by returning to its historical antecedents and once again grazing cows on the Common?

John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.

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