Snapshots: The Food Project

Amy Bracken
April 1, 2000


To bring youth and adults from the city and suburbs together to address environmental and social issues, to provide food to the homeless, and to help youths realize their potential to make a positive impact on their communities.

In a Nutshell:

Youth grow 130,000 pounds of organic produce a year on two urban lots in Boston and a 21-acre farm in suburban Lincoln. They harvest and distribute the food to Boston homeless shelters, two urban farmers’ markets, and a Community Supported Agriculture program. Teens use the produce to cook and serve meals at five shelters, and speak at conferences and within their communities on issues surrounding food and the environment. The youths develop leadership skills by working with thousands of volunteers tending the food lots.

Where It Happens:

In the vastly different communities of Roxbury and Lincoln, Mass. Roxbury faced years of neglect, discrimination, and disinvestment before residents joined forces to begin rebuilding the community into a vibrant urban village representing many cultures and backgrounds. Lincoln is one of the wealthiest suburbs of Boston, and has a strong interest in preserving and protecting farmland from development.

When It Began:

In 1991 as a three-year project of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The first growing season was 1992. In 1994, it became an independent program.

Who Started It:

Ward Cheney founded The Food Project after years of related work in farming, work with Outward Bound, and involvement in the civil rights movement.
Who Runs It: The Food Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization, is run by Patricia Gray. She is a founding member, and has a background in education and in political and social activism.

Early Obstacle:

Raising money during the first three years. Staff at The Food Project financed much of the start-up through unpaid time and contributions through family and friends. Uneven fund raising prompted the organization to borrow money with the belief that the project would succeed. A continuing challenge has been to build full diversity among the program participants, staff and board.

How They Overcame It:

The willingness of early staff members to work long hours for little or nothing, and get family and friends to contribute in a variety of ways, helped financially. Fund raisers generate support from local foundations, corporations and individuals. A diversity committee, comprised of board and staff members, was set up a few months ago and is networking with organizations in the Boston area to build a comprehensive recruitment strategy.


$900,000 in 1999.

Who Pays:

The Food Project is funded by individual donors and through foundation grants. A five-year $615,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will
be used in part to document and disseminate The Food project’s model nationally.

Kids Served:

3,500 since its inception, with approximately 60 percent from Boston and 40 percent from the suburbs. Each year 60 youth fully participate in the summer program, and 22 are enrolled in the program during the school year. In addition, school groups, youth groups and individual youths volunteer on a one-time basis or
several times throughout the year. Alumni continue
to participate, so that more than 1,000 volunteers work on the land annually.

Kids Turn-On:

Kids work in groups or “crews” of 10 to 12 youths and develop very deep friendships through the hard work of weeding, harvesting and working on the farm together.

Kids Turn-Off:

Getting up early, getting muddy, working in hot sun, losing pay when you act up, keeping your cool when peers give feedback that you might not
appreciate. Also, the organization asks for a tremendous commitment from youth.” You have to give from your soul at
The Food Project,” one youth said.

What Still Gets in the Way:

Managing growth without losing the heart and intimacy of the organization. Raising the financial resources from zero each year to keep the effort alive.


Pat Gray, Executive Director, The Food Project, P.O. Box 705, Lincoln, MA 01733. (781) 259-8621.

Bracken, Amy. "The Food Project." Snapshots. Youth Today, April 2000, p. 15.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.