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Year-round farming in Massachusetts? How the state is investing in solutions.

Eastie Farm’s new “zero emissions” greenhouse is tucked down a narrow alley, a block from the expressway, in a gritty East Boston corner. The gleaming structure rises amid gardens landscaped with native plants: milkweed, choke weed, huckleberry, mountain mint, paw paw saplings, and two large mulberry trees.

The ability to cram urban permaculture farms into improbable spots and transform these forgotten spaces into vibrant, welcoming community education and food distribution centers is the genius of Eastie Farm, which Civil Eats first covered in 2019. On an early fall day, the site buzzes with activity. A dozen or so residents with young children line up for their community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares while staff quickly sort through boxes of green beans, apples, pumpkins, and corn purchased from local farms. Inside the greenhouse, electricians complete the circuitry for the geothermal energy system that will pump heat from 450 feet below the surface to keep plants warm during cooler months.

Season extension—providing fresh, local, nutritious food throughout the winter months—is an overarching goal, as is adapting to a changing climate reality, which is rare for this type of program.  
Eastie Farm’s greenhouse will enable the urban farm, which manages three mini-farms and four school-based gardens in East Boston, to extend its growing season and provide a winter classroom for its environmental education program. It expands the organization’s ability to increase food security in the largely immigrant community, with a median household income below the rest of Boston and the furthest average distance to a grocery store.

It is one of 20 greenhouses built at Massachusetts farms over the past two years to increase the availability of locally produced food in underserved communities. A state-funded food security infrastructure grant program, launched at the height of the pandemic, helped pay for the greenhouses, along with 487 other infrastructure projects, ranging from food delivery trucks and freezers to farm equipment to a public housing authority’s vertical farming initiative. The $58 million program aims to make local, fresh food production more efficient and accessible and to mitigate future crises by better connecting local producers and harvesters to a resilient food system.

Ashley Randle, deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, says the program is a national model for “how to shore up infrastructure to build a more robust, resilient food system and local economy.” While it’s too early to measure the program’s impact, she says, “It truly has been transformational to our local food system in Massachusetts.”

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