Paul Franceschi, Outreach Coordinator
This season, the Gleaners’ apprentice team visited Mill City Grows’ urban farm in the Pawtucketville neighborhood of Lowell—one of their many sites where they grow food with community members—to learn more and collaborate on farm projects.
Mill City Grows (MCG) is a community-based food justice program that works to improve physical health, economic independence and environmental sustainability in Lowell through increased access to land, locally-grown food, and education. They manage three urban farm spaces, eight community gardens, and a network of school gardens (that connect with over 8,000 students and families!).
From their growing practices to their programs at large, Mill City Grows explained that they are dedicated to adaptability and learning, and are deeply community-centered. Outreach Volunteer Operations Manager, Dai, and Farm Manager, Brian, described to the apprentice team that the farm ‘trials’ new practices and crops as much as they focus on production. Dai showed the Gleaners’ apprentices a new plot of sweet sorghum that the farm was testing out this year, in addition to other nutrient-rich grain and seed crops like sesame. Community members bring ideas and guidance to MCG’s work, as they strive to incorporate culturally appropriate crops into their growing. In a broadly multilingual and culturally diverse city, Dai says that Mill City Grows finds community connections through a collective language of food.
During the pandemic, Mill City Grows converted their school gardens into ‘microfarms’ to power grab-and-go food shares for Lowell families. As with their farm practices, MCG started the program as a trial, and grew the model according to what worked, with guidance and feedback from community members. Their urban farm sites also supply food for MCG’s mobile market & community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, which both accept the state and federal nutrition assistance programs SNAP & HIP.
Community buy-in to Mill City Grows’ programs is a central part of their sustainability and philosophy. A key part of food justice is food sovereignty—the right of communities and individuals to participate, hold ownership in, and guide their own food systems. In line with this, residents are able to assist with growing food for MCG's distribution, grow their own food in community gardens, and participate in workshops & education programs related to growing practices.
During our visit, the Gleaners’ crew helped build ‘high tunnels’ and ‘low tunnels’ at the farm. Both structures do the same thing, at different scales—working like a greenhouse to trap heat and extend the growing season into cooler weather for a section of the field (in the case of a high-tunnel) or a single row of crops (for low-tunnels). Mill City Grows has never had as much food planted for winter as they do now, and they plan to continue their food distribution to include winter shares!
We hope you will check out more of Mill City Grows’ work at www.millcitygrows.org! Mill City Grows accepts financial and in-kind donations online to grow their work, and invites local Lowell residents to volunteer in their gardens. You can also follow MCG on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Boston Area Gleaners
91 Martin Street
Acton, MA 01720