Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Went Down in Beantown (Professionally)

Boston Gardens
Boston.  It was incredible.  Loved the city.  Loved the people I met with. Loved the architecture. Loved the restaurants.  Loved the local food scene.  Loved the people.  And the boys were *real* cute.  (What?!  Like I've said, focused...not dead.)

State House
I've described driving out to the Food Project's farm in Beverly, and the lovely afternoon I had on the grounds.  After the sweaty ride back to the city (seriously stinky and filthy but much more direct), I made the decision to check into the hotel, take a quick shower, ditch the rental and be a few minutes late for my second meeting.  (Trust me, it was for the best or our meeting would have been a *lot* shorter.)  I stayed at the Ames Hotel in the financial district of Boston.  The location isn't perfect, but the hotel pretty much is - more on that later. Then, it was off to Haley House for the first of two meetings there.

Gorgeous Lobby at the Ames
Saturday was filled with two more meetings.  (Little bit of a late start on Saturday...we can cover that in the post of what I did for "fun" in Boston.)  The first meeting was back at Haley House.  Afterwards, I took a crash course in the Boston bus system where I was graced with the kindness of a local floral shop owner.  When I ducked into her shop to ask a question about the bus stop (yes, so very tourist of me, but getting on the wrong bus was not an option), she insisted upon waiting for the bus with me and then swiping her bus pass for my ride.  Would not accept money.  This is what I meant when I say I loved the people in Boston.  I consistently met people not only helpful, but friendly and genuine.  (When you  spend most of your time in the Nation's capital, trust me, genuine holds a lot of sway.)  Safely on the bus, I took a short 20 minute ride across the Charles River, through the campus of MIT and into Cambridge.  In a small coffee shop, I met with JJ Gonson the owner and board member of several local food businesses.

Downtown Boston- I mean the architecture is unreal!
Saturday night and Sunday were basically free (in theory, free for writing...yah, well, we see how that worked out).  I checked out the SoWa farmer's market for M@M and otherwise explored the city and its food.  (Described in upcoming post).  Monday began with an early phone interview with a nutritionist from Community Servings and then a drive (much more successful this time...no tunnels) to Jamaica Plains for a visit to Crop Circle Kitchen.  Then, a sad drive back to the airport (so easy that I'm not sure how the debacle on Friday ever happened) where I was trapped by bad weather for six hours (and could have been writing pieces like this).

Here's a little bit more about the fantastic organizations I spoke with and toured on my trip:

The Food Project: Operating since 1991, the Food Project has evolved into an organization with ties criss-crossing the Greater Boston area. Their mission is three-fold and advertised on the T-shirts youth participants wear: Youth Food Community.  Besides increasing food access and teaching teenagers about leadership, responsibility and job skills, the organization builds community by creating groups of youth to "work" each farm (they have 6) that draw from a variety of different demographics.  Participants apply to be a part of the program beginning with a summer program.  Here the goal is to build awareness about fresh, healthy food and highlight leadership skills.  From there, students can apply for an academic year position where they will work on the farm after school, guide weekend volunteers and practice public speaking skills. Finally, youth can progress to the deepest level of participation at the internship position where they lead classes for their peers in the community on cooking and nutrition.  Besides conducting these community classes on food and nutrition, the Food Project also uses the produce they grow on their farms for CSAs, Farmer's Markets and hunger relief organizations.

Haley House and Cafe: Haley House has existed since 1966 as a transitionary location for those without housing or jobs.  The program has grown from housing and a soup kitchen as needs have arisen.  The Cafe, open since 2005, operates two programs.  "Take Back the Kitchen" is a program that works with at-risk youth as well as urban college students and some young adults to train them in job skills and nutritional cooking. The"Transitional Employment Program" works with formerly incarcerated individuals to give them real-life employment experience in the Cafe.  These individuals also receive tutoring and transitional support to ensure their success.  The Cafe is a fully functional dining establishment that also serves as a gathering spot for community residents to partake in nutritious, freshly prepared food.  Game, movie and reading nights are held often.  Proceeds from the cafe help fund other Haley House programs.

CuisineEnLocale/Cambridge Community Kitchen: Both of these businesses focus on utilizing fresh, local foods.  Cuisine En Locale is a catering and food delivery service that uses only locavore ingredients.  Cambridge Community Kitchen is in development but hopes to serve in two capacities.  One kitchen will provide an incubator for small food businesses to grow and receive advice and training in addition to providing commercially licensed space.  The other kitchen will be zoned for education-based services and classes in the use of nutritious, fresh produce for meals aimed at a variety of demographics.  JJ Gonson, head of both enterprises, is a dynamo when it comes to local food, sourcing 80-90% of her ingredients locally.  So impressive!

Community Servings:  Community Servings' main mission is to deliver meals to individuals who are suffering from life-threathening illnesses.  The nutritionist on staff I spoke with described some of the additional nutritional services the organization provides.  Community Servings recently began operating a Farmer's Market that includes a cooking class on how to utilize in-season produce (similar to what I do).  The Market accepts SNAP and all are welcome; able-bodied clients of CS are particularly encouraged to attend.  In addition, Community Servings' nutritionist teaches weekly produce-driven cooking classes that promote low-cost recipes and include a grant that allows participants to take home a Farmer's Market coupon/voucher that enables them to purchase many of the ingredients used in class.

CropCircleKitchen and OrFoodEx: Crop Circle Kitchen is a very successful business incubator kitchen. Its main purpose is not just to provide commercially licensed kitchen space for burgeoning food businesses, but also provide in-depth counseling in business planning and potential growth.  Companies are carefully selected based on their desire to succeed and their thoughtfulness in endeavor. OrFoodEx (short for Organic Renaissance Food Exchange) is a developing enterprise aimed at connecting local purveyors to local businesses in an affordable and accessible way by making use of group storage facilities and materials for transport and avoiding obstacles of scale, cost, geography and distribution.  It's basically an online forum for buyers/sellers to connect without paying a middle man while also providing warehouse and logistical support.  JD Kemp runs both companies and, really, I think he's brilliant.

Look for more of what makes these organizations unique in an upcoming post!

Finally, in case you missed it, the feature piece on Common Good City Farm is up on Zomppa.  Click here to check it out!

This week's M@M is also up.  Treat yourself to some of these zingy lemon/lime/basil cookies!

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