AT 7 am on Saturday, September 17, Jack and I headed to Buffalo to take part in the annual Tour de Farms, a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). Since Jack’s brother wanted to come to, we decided to go on the urban farm tour instead of the “classic” which goes all the way to the Oles Farm in Alden. As fate would have it, a sinus attack kept Jack’s brother at home, but I am glad we took the urban route to visit six farms on the west and east sides of Buffalo. West Buffalo is low income and struggling. East Buffalo contends with Detroit in numbers of abandoned houses and vast empty spaces where houses once stood.
The six farms on this tour share a commitment to providing healthier food to their mainly low-income neighbors. By farming in these blighted areas of the city, the farmers take a definite cut in one of the greatest benefits of farming – a.g. (aesthetic gluttony). But they make that up in social returns, the satisfaction that comes from getting to know your customers, providing fresh and nutritious food to people who really appreciate it and teaching young people to be self-reliant, active and make healthy food choices.
Initiated in 1992, MAP has grown slowly but steadily, providing jobs for neighborhood youth with training in growing and selling food, understanding the connections between diet and health, learning to have a voice in food system policy, and providing fresh organic produce for food apartheid neighborhoods. MAP is fortunate to have Diane Piccard as Director – she has been with them since 1997 and initiated the Growing Green Program in 2003.
With rain storms in the forecast for early afternoon, 80 or so of us mounted our bicycles at Rich Products on Niagara Street and followed our guides from GoBike Buffalo. First stop – the MAP Youth Garden, one of 13 sites where youngsters learn to grow food using organic practices. Claire Collie, one of the MAP farm educators, greeted us.