Growing Green: Making farm-fresh produce accessible to Buffalo’s urban neighborhoods

With a staff of enthusiastic teens, the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) is embracing the opportunity to share healthy living initiatives while promoting entrepreneurial skills. 
Danielle Rovillo is the markets director of MAP, a non-profit urban farm that operates on Massachusetts Avenue in Buffalo’s West Side neighborhood.

“Our Growing Green Program offers job opportunities to kids from all over the city,” Rovillo says. “They can come in and learn about our process, develop a hands-on understanding of growing and cooking fresh vegetables, and then help sell all that produce on our Mobile Market, which is basically an ice cream truck for produce.”
Rovillo was optimistic when describing the organization’s mission to “nurture the growth of a diverse and equitable local food system” and “promote local economic opportunities to students, accessibility to nutritious food to families, and social change education” for those who need it most.

But it’s not always easy.
“We distributed over 20,000 pounds of food last year out of just three residential refrigerators,” says Rovillo. While 20,000 pounds of healthy, homegrown food isn’t exactly an ideal amount for hundreds of deserving families over the course of one year, she explained, the fact that it was grown for and by the community with such limited resources is certainly an impressive accomplishment.
Things are getting bigger and better for MAP, though.
“Pretty soon we’ll have a $2 million facility sitting on top of a cold storage unit encompassing the entire perimeter of the new space,” Rovillo says. “That’s basically a giant walk-in fridge we’ve never had before. It’ll be an incredible asset in helping us grow more, store more, and deliver more healthy food alternatives to our community.”
MAP, which is currently undergoing massive renovations as a result of many local and federal grants, is blending its mission to provide healthy foods for folks in the community with an objective to educate local teens.
“It all comes down to food justice,” Rovillo says. “Some families who live in urban areas around Buffalo live miles and miles away from a decent source of produce. They have forgotten the benefits of finding, cooking, and eating healthy foods. But our kids are learning to help.”
How do neighbors know when the Mobile Market will be around the corner?
“We post flyers and work with community organizations well before we pull up in our Mobile Market.” Rovillo says. “We also have social media, but since not everyone does, we work with our friends in the neighborhood beforehand to advertise when we’ll be there and what we’ve got to offer.”
It’s not just about community, of course. It’s also about accessibility. “We accept cash and food stamps,” Rovillo adds, “anything that’ll help make healthy eating a viable option.”
MAP, which grows a wide variety of vegetables such as peas, spinach, garlic, and so much more, has various crops surrounding the immediate MAP premises and nearby streets. To make things even sweeter, MAP’s main farm features a small orchard to grow fresh fruit and a bee sanctuary to harvest honey.

Read more articles by James A. Colombo III.

James A. Colombo III is the grant developer & corporate content writer at Bak USA, a social enterprise that builds mobile computers in downtown Buffalo, New York. Lover of Labatt Blue, Elmo's wings, and live music, James is a Buffalonian through and through. He lives on the city's Lower West Side with his girlfriend, Mary.
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