We live in an age of convenience. Most of you reading this can probably purchase food at more than a dozen locations within a ten minute drive or your home. The majority of this food is ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook. Most of us have sacrificed the art of cooking for the convenience of the pre-packaged meal. We as Americans love convenience, saving time and effort, and not having to do math when it comes to cooking. Sadly this has had some detrimental effects on our health with obesity, bad cholesterol, diabetes, chronic heart disease, and other diet related illnesses sky-rocketing in the last 50 year since the advent of processed foods.
All of us have not-so-fond memories of being forced to sit at the dinner table as children until we ate all of our vegetables. The majority of us only like a few vegetables and many of us don't care for them at all, we eat them because we know we should, it's good for our bodies. I'll be the first to admit that I force myself to eat the majority of vegetables that I do, and surprisingly I find as an adult I actually like a lot of things that I found "icky" as a kid. I now love fish, peppers, onions, leeks, salad, squash, pumpkin and many other things I hated or never tried as a child.
But here is the frightening thing. I, now looking back at things, realize that I was of a generation of transition in diet. Being of Irish-Italian descent and a member of the lower middle class I grew up in a household where we ate a diet that most Americans are familiar with: pasta, chicken, potatoes, spinach, broccoli, roasts, beef stew...and as we lived with my grandparents I was spoiled with plenty of junk foods and baked goods. Here is where my memory picks up something, I also remember eating fast food and pizza often. I am by no means saying my mom is bad for letting us eat such foods, she was just part of a growing trend that is now approaching a norm in America, the single mother. She was a nurse and often worked long hours, 6 days a week and as such she was often far too tired to cook for us, my grandmother by the way was a horrible cook and knew it so she refrained from any culinary adventures and my grandfather had cancer since before I was born so he was often too tired to even get out of his rocking chair and walk about the house due to medications and chemo. So this being said I probably ate processed foods (pizza, take-out, fast food, or frozen) more times in a week than I did home-cooked meals. Being a Lynner in a less wealthy part of town (the Highlands) I was actually one of the lucky ones, most of the kids I knew almost always ate fast food or frozen foods.
So I can now only venture to what the diets must be like for most Lynners as we can say without trying to hide anything that most Lynners, including myself when I lived in Lynn, are lower middle class or even below that. In fact, in terms of residents living under the poverty line, I would venture that Lynn is probably one of the poorest cities in MA and probably the poorest on the North Shore. Often times in poorer families the first thing that gets cut is money spent on food, not in quantity but quality. Anyone who has been to the supermarket knows you can buy more macaroni and cheese than you can fish for ten dollars. Anyone who has been to a fast food chain knows the only vegetables on the menu are either onions or potatoes deep-fried in fat.
With this knowledge that income has direct correlations with diet and that diet is intimately linked with health and thus with well-being and happiness why would anyone oppose a source of fresh produce in an urban city with a large population of under-earning families? Not to use the cliche, but in this economy why would anyone oppose a source of jobs, many of which go to youths which are the worst hit by this current recession.
Let me break it down as to why the Food Project in Lynn is easily one of the more important employers. I don't know the exact numbers as I have yet to find a reliable source so until then I will try to be conservative.
The Food Project employs mostly youths for the summer, the time of year when they aren't in school. This does a few things, it keeps these kids off the streets and away from bad influences like gangs, drugs, and alcohol. Someone who spent all day in the sun working in a garden isn't going to be spending all night smashing windows and smoking dope. The youths are also learning during a time period when most kids relish the idea of watching tv, playing video games and going to the beach all day. I would not be surprised if a study were to be done that resulted in finding that kids working with the food project received better grades than kids who don't. Another bonus is that these kids are learning valuable work skills at an age when most kids are lounging around the house on summer break. Did I also mention that these kids, and the other workers of the Food Project, pay taxes too. That's right, while they are out in the sun sweating away their summer days they are paying for your roads, social security, and many other tax-funded items in your city and state. One more perk is that for both the students and the workers this organization is providing vital job and social skills.
Those are just the benefits to the people working for/with the food project. Any time spent reflecting on the issue will reveal that many other benefit directly and indirectly from the Food Project at Ingalls. The consumer greatly benefits in terms of the quality and nutritional value of the food. Fresh food is rotting the minute it is removed from the plant or the soil. A shelf life date is not the date when food starts to break down but rather the date estimated that the food will no longer be pleasing to the taste or safe to consume. It is estimated that most produce degrades significantly in nutritional value from the farm to the table. This doesn't sound so bad when the farm is within a 20 mile radius or like the Ingalls farm, ten minutes away, but most farms are not that close. In fact, most of our produce isn't even on the same side of the Mississippi river as we are. It only takes a few minutes of shopping in your local supermarket to read labels in the produce department. I can make you a serious bet that even in fall (our harvest season in the northeast) 90 percent of all the produce will be from points more than a hundred miles away, in fact most of it will be from either California, Mexico, and countries in South America. This being said, a good portion of the fresh produce you eat is not so fresh, but if you buy from your local farmer's market (the Food Project's included) you can be sure that even if their produce isn't as pretty it's a whole lot more nutritional and tastier. If you know anyone that grows heirloom tomatoes like many Lynners do, wait til fall and ask for a bite and compare.
These points alone are enough that any rational person considering them would side with the farm and indeed maybe even champion for more CSA's in their city.
So why not add some more icing to the cake, shall we?
In addition to adding jobs to the local economy, nutritional, fresh, and affordable food to dinner tables all across the socio-economic spectrum in the city, what else does such a farm as that at the Ingalls school do?
This one is my favorite: they provide social capital. What is social capital? Social capital is the concept that social networks, groups, organizations, neighborhoods, families, etc have value like physical capital (tools, machinery, buildings, raw materials) and human capital (talents, skills, education).
CSA's like the Food Project at Ingalls provide social capital in many ways. A supermarket is for the most part not a social gathering place, in fact it often feels hostile towards anyone spending more time than is needed there. Farmer's markets on the other hand are incubators of networking. The people who work at farmer's markets know a lot about what they are selling and they enjoy interacting with their consumers, and due to the fact of their small scale they need to interact with the consumers in order to understand their needs and wants more intimately, and to gain credit and a larger consumer base via word-of-mouth recommendations. The consumers go to these markets because they like knowing where their food comes from, they like being able to discuss farming and nutrition with the workers, and they also like meeting and talking with other people shopping at said markets. I am sure there have been more than a few relationships founded over two people discussing what their favorite type of potato was at a farmer's market.
Not to make this any longer than it has to but here are two more benefits of a local source of agriculture, food security and helping the environment. On the idea of food security, not to sound like a doomsday profit but there will be times in the history of this nation when food shortages will arise and having a local source of food will at least protect a percentage of the population. As to helping the environment, growing food in your yard is a lot nicer to the environment than shipping it in across the country, simple concept right? It is for these two last reasons alone that I think every city, or at least county, should be required by law to grow/raise enough food for their citizens in order to combat not only environmental degradation but the ever rising prices and increasing scarcity of food in this world bordering on over-population.
Here is a final note to that small yet loud minority of people opposed to the Food Project at Ingalls.
1. Rats are as common as humans in cities, in fact there are probably more of them than you think there are in the city. They don't solely eat garden fare but eat everything, mostly garbage and unprotected food in kitchens all across America. So unless you are proposing that we call in the national guard to Lynn to nuke ever rat-den and post health-inspectors 24/7 in every kitchen, at every trash can in the city then your point of closing the garden is moot.
Want less rats? Do what most cities across America have begun to embrace. Keep all your trash in city-issued heavy-duty plastic barrels with lids on them. Not only do they keep the rats out but they keep the raccoons from tipping them over too. I have yet to see a single rat in the streets of my city since we started doing this, and we have a population equal to Lynn's and people just as messy as the messiest Lynner. Did I also mention we have tons of people with large vegetable gardens, but we do have a major pest problem of our own, white-tailed deer and whascly wabbits.
2. To the moron who complained about their windows being smashed in, did you ever stop to think it was a stupid move to publish your name and address in the newspaper and talk about how you call the cops on "thugs" hanging out in your neighborhood. More than likely the poor kids were doing nothing but hanging out, and even minor tagging isn't as uncommon an issue around the city as you would think, I doubt farms are to blame for either of your troubles. Not saying I condone the vandalism of property but it would have been wise to make an anonymous complaint to your local representative first rather than have your name and address out there for all to see. More than likely one of the kids in your neighborhood who you have been bullying for all these years just got fed up from having the cops called on him for being a kid and playing in schoolyard/farm after-dark and decided to be the boogey-man you fear and smash your windows. I know if I lived in your neighborhood as a kid I would have loved to play hide and seek in a garden/school yard at night and if I had you calling the cops on me for being a worrying-nancy I would even venture to say that I would be tempted to break a few panes myself.
That being said, where are the police reports, the window-replacement bills? More than likely you just wanted to see your name in the Lynn Item. In my days as a boy on High Rock street I knew far too many grumpy old folks like yourself who bullied us kids for being kids, sure we may have been guilty of being too noisy but it's not like we were dealing drugs and breaking into houses.
Maybe those opposed just really hate vegetables?
Well, there you have it. I rambled on for far too long, but I like stream-of-conscious best as it is how we think, though it may seem incoherent at times I make no false pretenses at being a refined writer.
So have a heart, and say yes to the food project at Ingalls, for the kids, for the community, for the economy, for your health, for Lynn.
Here is the petition to sign showing your support, and if you live in the area check out the farmer's market when it comes around.
Sign the petition here for tasty nutritious food, summer jobs for youths, hands on learning for students
As always, in the lee of High Rock.