Filling the Food Processing Gap Between Local Farms and Institutions

Laura Flagg’s 2018 UEP Thesis (“Small-Scale Food Processing’s Role in Farm to Institution: Filling Market Gaps and Moving Toward a Regional Supply Chain”) explores small-scale food processing with a case study of Commonwealth Kitchen and three other processors. Read Laura’s full thesis here.


By Laura Flagg

Farm-to-institution initiatives are trying to grow the local economy by having local farms supply produce to the food systems of local schools and hospitals. But one of the challenges to developing this supply chain is a lack of infrastructure to process the season’s bounties into products (like sauces) that can be used throughout the year. Laura Flagg’s May 2018 master’s thesis explores how CommonWealth Kitchen in Boston and three other small scale food processors in the Northeast are attempting to close this gap.

Flagg finds that food processing for farm to institution faces similar challenges as supplying local produce, such as distribution, cost, and supply of production. But there are also unique challenges such as funding, scaling up production, and buyer habits. Small-scale processors of local food struggle to access consistent and sufficient funding. Even more challenging is that available funding usually focuses on developing new food processing centers rather than expanding existing infrastructure. This lack of consistent funding feeds into the challenge of scaling up and expanding processing operations. Eventually, small-scale processors need to scale up to take full advantage of their opportunities, which includes purchasing more equipment, expanding their physical space, and finding a steady stream to customers to regulate their operating costs. However, for many this process is a “chicken or the egg” situation. In many cases, the processor needs a steady stream of income to scale up and bring the product costs down to appeal to institutional buyers, but this cannot happen until the processor has a steady stream of committed institutional buyers. However, many institutions will not commit to large purchases of locally processed food due to buyer habits of expecting low-cost, high volume food, short turn around times for orders placed, and working with vendors within their food service management companies.

Flagg also finds that local procurement laws and mandates have good intent, but they are not strong enough to create major change within the farm to institution movement. There are two types of local procurement laws, the first being a preference for local food purchasing as long as it does not cost a certain percentage more than conventionally purchased food and the second being a targeted mandate of purchasing a certain percentage of local food by a certain date. The issue with preference vs. target laws is that preference laws are not binding. They imply a desire to purchase locally grown and processed goods, but impose no requirement.

Regional Economic Impact of Small-Scale Food Processing

One of her most significant findings is the need to reframe the conversation around farm to institution to emphasize the positive regional economic impacts of small-scale food processing. The conversation around farm to institution has typically been framed around increasing knowledge of and access to local fresh foods and healthy eating and creating close relationships between farmers and consumers. However, the economic benefits of farm to institution are not often discussed, even though the potential is high.

Product and Capital Flow in Farm to Institution

Farm2Institut Flow

As can be seen in the above figure, farm to institution has impacts on the regional economy through import substitution and the multiplier effect (orange arrows=product flow, green arrows=capital flow). Goods that are produced locally or regionally can replace goods that are typically imported. The purchase of these local products begins the circulation of money within a region, as opposed to money flowing out of a region. This can be seen in the way that dollars from institutional purchases flow to local aggregators and small-scale processors, to local farms, and then are circulated back into the local economy through job creation and local spending. It is estimated that for every $1 spent locally, another 40 cents to $1.60 of local economic activity is generated.[1] Additionally, the purchase of local food leads to job creation, with studies indicating that nearly 32 jobs are created for every $1 million in revenue generated by local farms, compared to only 10.5 jobs for wholesale farms.[2]

CommonWealth Kitchen Small-Scale Processing

CommonWealth Kitchen (CWK) is best known for their work as a food business incubator and shared kitchen facility in Dorchester, MA. Their work focuses on creating an equitable and resilient local food economy, by supporting women, immigrant, and people of color owned businesses. They also focus on providing sustainable employment, especially for those impacted by racial, social, and economic inequality. Recently, CWK has expanded their operations to include small-scale food processing. They see this venture as a way to further support small food business, create more jobs within the food system, and play a role in regional food systems change.

With grant funding from the US Department of Agriculture and the Massachusetts Dept. of Agriculture Resources, CWK first began their foray into small-scale food processing in 2016. At the start, their work focused on co-packing for member businesses, farmer value added products, and farm-to-institution. The first tangible work that CWK did with farm-to-institution was the 2016 Tomato Project that CWK completed for Northeastern University Dining Services. Conceptualized in the spring and executed in the summer of 2016, CWK developed a recipe and then produced sauce from diced tomatoes gleaned from Davidian’s Farm (sourced by Red Tomato), which was then sold to Northeastern. This local marinara sauce was then showcased on Northeastern’s fall menu in their residential dining halls.

Throughout the process of working with local institutions, CWK has found buyer habits and their capacity to develop new products as challenges. However, they have found working with existing buyer habits, specifically the typical institutional purchasing and procurement timeline and price sensitivity, to be the largest hurdle. Institutional buyers are used to purchasing products that are readily available and in stock, as well as products that are low-cost for a higher volume. As small-scale processing of local food is fairly new, CWK’s timeline for developing, processing, and finalizing a product is approximately 1 – 2 months. The length of the process depends on when an order is placed, how larger the order is, CWK’s production schedule, and the type of product that is being made (it takes longer if the product is new to CWK and requires recipe scaling and other adjustments).

Pathway of Institutional Contract Manufacturing with CWK

CWK Pathway

The pathway of institutional food processing at CWK starts with partnership formation with local institutions. Once a partnership is formed, CWK and the institution discuss the specific needs of that institution, what products would do well on their menu, what volume of product they need, and when they need it by. Following this conversation, the institution places an order with their estimated volumes. This process of meeting, discussion, and order placement takes around 1 – 4 weeks. Next, the institution confirms the final volume of product needed, CWK schedules production and orders ingredients, and the product is manufactured, packed, and labeled at CWK’s facility. This process takes another 1 – 4 weeks. Once the product is finalized, it is picked up and distributed throughout the institution’s kitchens and food service locations to be used in institutional meals. This last part of the pathway takes about 1 – 2 weeks.

Thesis Recommendations

Based on her thesis learnings, Flagg recommends further exploration and expansion of existing cross-sector partnerships. She urges the development of a cross-sector pilot program focused on institutional buyer commitments. Ideally, this cross-sector pilot program would bring together various partners along the supply chain, including farmers, food processors, and distributors, food management companies, food procurement directors at institutions, and funders. The shared goal of those in the pilot program would be to acknowledge and commit to strengthening and obtaining institutional commitments to buy. Finally, she encourages the reframing of the farm to institution conversation to focus on the local and regional economic impacts of small-scale food processing.

Since Flagg’s thesis was published, the City of Boston has passed the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP), which will transform the way public institutions purchase food. Boston is the first East Coast city to follow in the footsteps of cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. The GFPP directs public institutions in Boston to purchase food that is nutritious, local, sustainable and ethically sourced, as well as food that meets robust labor, health, animal welfare, and environmental standards. Boston’s GFPP specifically centers around racial equity, and includes stakeholder participation in the implementation process. The coalition advocating for this program included local and national organizations, including CWK.

[1] “Farm to School Rocks,” Farm Aid, Accessed April 5, 2018.

[2] “The Economic Impact of Locally Produced Food,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Accessed December 5, 22017.

Tufts UEP and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Awarded 2-year Federal Community Action Research Grant

How does community participation influence community development and the residents who engage? How can civic participation be strengthened so that communities gain more control over their destinies? These are the questions that Tufts UEP and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) will be pursuing over the next two years. The participatory research project is entitled From Civic Participation to Community Control: Assessing and Strengthening Participatory Planning for Commercial District Development Without Displacement in Boston’s Dudley Neighborhood. (See executive summary below.) The partners have a unique opportunity to research the collaboration between City of Boston and DSNI to revitalize Upham’s Corner into an arts and innovation district.

(Dorchester Reporter, Jennifer Smith photo)

The partners recently won one of sixteen grants awarded in a nationwide research competition sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (the federal agency that hosts Americorps). According to CNCS, “This competition focuses on engaging communities in conversations about their civic health using participatory research approaches to facilitate civic engagement and strengthen community capacity to address local issues…”

This research project builds on UEP and DSNI’s Co-Research/Co-Education partnership, which launched in 2016 with support of Tisch College and a seed grant from Tisch College Community Research Center. Funding of $50,000 per year will be shared equally between Tufts and DSNI and will support graduate students and community resident researchers, as well as UEP faculty and DSNI staff.

DSNI Interim Executive Director Denise Barros says, “we have always known that residents have the capacity to direct the future development of the neighborhood. Now we have the resources to research how community control happens and use the results to improve public planning processes.”

According to Tufts UEP Senior Lecturer Penn Loh, “we were well positioned for this federal grant because of our decades long partnership. Knowledge isn’t produced in academia and then applied in the real world, but rather university and community co-produce new knowledge through collaborative research and practice.”

Executive Summary

From Civic Participation to Community Control: Assessing and Strengthening Participatory Planning for Commercial District Development Without Displacement in Boston’s Dudley Neighborhood

This project will explore how civic engagement can strengthen community capacity for control over land use and economic development in Boston’s Dudley neighborhood. Since the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) was formed in 1984, it developed its own master plan and has fostered development of 226 units of affordable housing, parks, a greenhouse, and urban farms on 32 acres owned by its community land trust. This neighborhood has a highly developed civic infrastructure, built by organizing, participatory planning, and community ownership of land. Dudley has become a nationally renowned model for community control that can guide development without displacement.

Tufts Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning (UEP), a graduate planning program, has been working with DSNI since 1990. UEP and DSNI established a 3-year Co-Research/Co-Education partnership in 2016 to investigate and advance strategies for community control of land and the local economy. This project will build on our partnership to pursue strategies for commercial development without displacement, with a focus on the Upham’s Corner commercial district. This district is on the eastern edge of the 1.3 square mile Dudley neighborhood, which is still a predominantly lower-income community of color with ~30,000 residents.

Despite the high degree of civic infrastructure and success with developing permanently affordable housing, the neighborhood still is in social crisis, experiencing persistent poverty and high un/underemployment. Thus, DSNI has begun exploring how its organizing, planning, and land ownership can support commercial development that can produce good jobs and support locally-owned businesses.

Specifically, this project will assess the impacts of civic participation in the planning process for revitalizing Upham’s Corner into a commercial arts innovation district. DSNI’s land trust recently acquired a former bank building and has been co-coordinating a planning process over the last year with City of Boston, which owns two other key redevelopment sites. This development is a major focus for neighborhood-based planning in the City of Boston’s Imagine 2030 comprehensive plan.

This project will conduct a participatory assessment of the impacts of engagement on the development process and outcomes in Upham’s Corner, as well as civic infrastructure. The overall question is how the development process can go beyond resident input into a City decision-making process towards more direct forms of democratic resident control of those decisions. DSNI has already achieved direct control over housing development through its land trust and now is trying to exercise this power in commercial development. What difference does community control make to the development process and civic infrastructure? How can we measure engagement and strengthen capacity for community control?

In the first year, the project will train and support a resident research team to conduct interviews and focus groups with residents engaged at various levels in the process. Tufts researchers will interview City of Boston officials and other community leaders appointed to the advisory group guiding. In the second year, the project will develop and pilot measures and strategies for strengthening civic infrastructure for effective community engagement, community control, and community economic development.

Expected outcomes include more capacity within DSNI and among Dudley residents to conduct participatory assessments, deeper understanding of the impacts of community engagement and measures of community control, deeper relationships between DSNI, City, and other stakeholders, and lessons learned that can be more broadly shared with other practitioners and researchers.

Will Work for Food: How Boston is Building a Just Food Economy

By Penn Loh and Laura Flagg

Despite growing appetites for healthy, sustainable, and local food, workers in the food industry are still among the lowest paid and highly exploited workers in the US. The more than 20 million people (representing 1/6 of the entire US workforce)[i] who are growing, producing, and serving food often work long hours in hazardous conditions for poverty wages, with few opportunities for economic mobility.

(from Food Solutions New England)

Many are, not so ironically, food insecure themselves. A 2014 study of almost 300 restaurant workers in New York City and San Francisco Bay Area found that almost one-third were food insecure as defined by the US Department of Agriculture.[ii] These rates are double the overall rates in those cities. In the Bay Area, workers serving organic or sustainable food were 22% more likely to be food insecure than other food workers in the region. A 2012 study analyzing US Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that a majority of food sector workers qualified for government assistance programs and 14% relied on food stamps.[iii]

In Boston, the story is much the same. A 2016 study of 500 Boston area restaurant workers by Restaurant Opportunities Center found that 36% earned below the US Department of Labor’s lower living standard for a family of three.[iv] And 94% said their employer does not provide health insurance, while 83% reported not having access to paid sick days.

“The hardest part about my previous job as a waitress was the inconsistent hours, lack of benefits, and low pay when it was a slow day with few tips,” says Dinora Andrade, who is now a prep cook at Boston’s CommonWealth Kitchen incubator.

Dinora Andrade, Prep Cook, Commonwealth Kitchen

Yet, the local food economy is booming, with new restaurants and food businesses catering to foodies. In 2014, local foods generated $12 billion in sales, accounting for 2% of total U.S. retail sales of foods and beverages, and it is predicted that local food sales will grow to $20 billion in 2019.[v] In Boston, food service jobs have grown from 6.5% of all private sector jobs in 2004 to 8.5% in 2014.

In Boston, a variety of efforts are under way to ensure that this growth benefits all workers and does not just lead to more low-wage jobs. Some have been campaigning to raise the wage floor. UNITE HERE (Local 26) has unionized hundreds of university food service workers to win higher wages and more job security. In Massachusetts, the Fight for 15, initially launched by fast food workers, recently won a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2023.

But the fight does not end with higher wages. Efforts are also under way to support food entrepreneurship and business ownership by those who have been most exploited. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which has a Boston chapter and fights for fair wages, has developed restaurants cooperatively owned by workers in New York City and Detroit. Commonwealth Kitchen in Boston is incubating food businesses started by local entrepreneurs, primarily women and people of color. And it is creating a food manufacturing workforce to support these new businesses, as well as create a supply chain of locally manufactured goods to local universities and hospitals. Many of these new food businesses and their entrepreneurs aspire to generate benefits for workers, community, and the environment, as well as make a profit.

Transforming the Conventional Food System

All of these efforts are needed to transform the conventional food economy, which exploits people and the planet to mass produce inexpensive food. The global industrial model starts with government subsidies and cheap labor to promote the ecologically harmful production of inexpensive commodities like corn and sugar. These commodities are then manufactured into food products, often unhealthy, which are then shipped around the world.

Even nutritious fresh foods are a part of this global system. Lettuce, for instance, is harvested by migrant workers, who are not protected by federal labor laws and often vulnerable to other abuses, as a quarter to half of all farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented.[vi] That lettuce then gets trucked across the country by large distributors to grocery stores, cafeterias, and restaurants. Though the workers at the retail end of the supply chain may not have to work in as hot or pesticide-laden conditions as farmworkers, their work is also low paid and often seasonal and without any benefits.

To break this cycle of producing cheap food by paying poverty wages and poisoning the environment, food justice movements are working to set higher labor and environmental standards, as well as re-localize the economy with “high road” businesses. Food worker organizing has resulted in major gains and a fairer share of the fruits of the food economy.

Over the past several years UNITE HERE has unionized thousands of food service workers at Boston-area universities. The 700 workers at Harvard went on 3-week strike in Fall 2016 to win wage increases to $35,000 per year and more affordable health care. In Fall 2017, over 300 Northeastern University workers won $35,000, up from an average of less than $22,000.

Building the Community Food Economy

While trying to reform the conventional food economy, the food justice movement is also building new business models for more locally grown and manufactured food. ROC United seeks to organize restaurant workers to advocate for fair wages, but at the same time is opening COLORS restaurants that are owned by workers and modeling “high road” ethical labor and environmental practices, such as providing free skills training to workers to help them obtain living wage jobs. COLORS have opened in New York City and Detroit and are planned for Washington DC, New Orleans, and Oakland. ROC is also engaging consumers through Diners United to promote dining at high road restaurants by reporting restaurants with low-road employment practices, such as sexual harassment and discrimination, to ROC.

No single farmer, food manufacturer, or restaurant is going to transform the food economy by itself. However, linking these businesses together into supply chains and building a base of ethical consumers to drive demand, can be the foundation of a more just, sustainable, and democratic economy and challenge the conventional food system. There are several notable examples of high road food businesses in Boston area that are pioneering food justice practices.

City Fresh Foods prepares healthy, culturally appropriate meals for many institutions. Founded by several entrepreneurs of color in 1994, the company has now grown to ~100 employees. Because its mission was always about providing economic empowerment to local residents, it is working towards 100% community ownership. It already practices open book management and profit sharing and is majority owned and operated by local residents. City Fresh leaders also helped found Urban Farming Institute to train local residents to grow commercially on vacant lots.

CommonWealth Kitchen: Building the Community Food Ecosystem


As more and more local residents are inspired to start food businesses, infrastructure is growing to meet the needs of these new entrepreneurs and their small businesses. Based in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, CommonWealth Kitchen (CWK) incubates over 50 small food businesses, a majority of which are owned by women and people of color. From food trucks and caterers to ice cream and empanada producers, these businesses collectively employ more than 140.

As startup businesses, most CWK members do not yet have the revenue or size to support many full time, year-round jobs. Some businesses only need workers during high production seasons, such as in the summer for farmers’ market production or during the holidays for gift order production. They find it difficult to hire workers with the skills and motivation, when they can only offer part-time seasonal contracts.

CWK is helping to solve this labor challenge by training its own workforce to prepare food under contract in its commissary kitchen, to serve its multiple members. This system of sharing workers helps to aggregate many small jobs into full-time jobs. CWK now has a commissary workforce of 11, being paid $12-16 per hour, with support for training and career advancement. They prioritize hiring from the local neighborhood, with 90% of commissary workers living in surrounding neighborhoods.

Dinora Andrade used to work as a waitress at a local restaurant, where her hours were inconsistent and part-time. She was hired as a CWK prep cook in the commissary kitchen in 2014, and says that she enjoys this job more than her previous one. “It is a good working environment, with a friendly community and benefits. And it is close to where I live so I can just walk,” says Andrade. Her job in the commissary kitchen is usually full-time, between 30-40 hours a week. When she wants to work more hours, Andrade picks up extra work to help prepare for food trucks or other caterers in the CWK member business family.

With space, equipment, and workforce, CWK is now also pioneering small-scale contract manufacturing for partners beyond its own members. Industrial food manufacturing in the conventional food system typically requires large orders with frequently scheduled production runs. While the exact order amount varies depending on the product and equipment, in many cases the businesses are required to increase their production by 100-200%. CWK saw an opportunity to fill this gap in the food system to serve smaller local businesses, as well as to spur the creation of more quality jobs for food workers.

To put this manufacturing capacity to use, CWK has been developing products for universities and hospitals that are looking to source more local food. In one example, they are using surplus end-of-season tomatoes from local farms to make tomato sauce for local universities. In 2016, CWK produced about 15,000 gallons of crushed tomatoes from local tomatoes gleaned by Boston Area Gleaners for Northeastern University to use in their on-campus meals. They are also trying innovative ways to process other locally-grown produce, such as apples and pumpkins, into products with longer shelf-lives such as apple sauce and as an input for local beer.

As these efforts in Boston show, turning bad jobs in the food sector into good ones requires more than just raising wages or building local food businesses. It will take an ecosystem approach, in which local supply chains can be built around local growers, producers, and manufacturers, and connected to consumers who care about where their food comes from and how the workers and environment are treated in getting it to their plates.


[i] Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA). June 6, 2012. The Hands that Feed Us: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers Along the Food Chain. Accessed July 11, 2018 from

[ii] Food Chain Workers Alliance, The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, The Restaurant Opportunities Center the Bay, Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy. July 24, 2014. Food Insecurity of Restaurant Workers. Accessed July 11, 2018 from

[iii] FCWA 2012.

[iv] The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Boston, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, and the Boston Area Restaurant Industry Coalition. October 2016. Behind the Kitchen Door: Promise and Denial in Boston’s Growing Restaurant Industry. Accessed July 11, 2018 from

[v] Packaged Facts. January 28, 2015. Sales of Local Foods Reaches $12 Billion. Accessed July 17, 2018,

[vi] FCWA 2012.

Laura Flagg completed her MA at Tufts UEP in May 2018. Her masters thesis explores Commonwealth Kitchen’s efforts to build small scale food processing capacity.


Preparing Soil, Planting Seeds: Community Land Trusts for Urban Farms

In Spring 2018, Alice Maggio, David Morgan, Nicole Huang, and Zoë Ackerman partnered with members of the Urban Farming Institute Community Land Trust to carry out a Tufts Field Project. The Urban Farming Institute (UFI) of Boston’s mission is to promote urban agriculture through education, farmer training, policy initiatives, and farm site access for farmers. Urban Farming Institute Community Land Trust (UFI CLT) is the first organization in Boston whose sole mission is to acquire and steward urban farm sites using the community land trust model. Field Projects is a required course for Tufts UEP MA students, in which they work on projects for the entire spring semester with real world partners. This post discusses the Tufts team’s process of working with each other, our partners at UFI CLT, and several sneak-peeks of the final report.

[Post written by Zoë Ackerman with generous insights from her team members, Alice Maggio, David Morgan and Nicole Huang.]

UEP Field Project team with Urban Farming Institute leaders and Field Project instructor and TA at May 2018 final presentation.

The Urban Farming Institute Community Land Trust tasked our team with a complex question: How can the community land trust (CLT) model be adapted to best support commercial urban farming in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan?

This overarching question brings up several important concepts. Where did CLTs originate and how do they fundamentally challenge the concept of private property ownership? How do the roots of the CLT movement inform how the model applies to urban agriculture? How are other urban farming CLTs grappling with questions of community engagement, land agreements, and governance? What can UFI CLT learn from them?

As we learned more about the CLT and urban agriculture movements–and where they overlapped and diverged–we realized that our field project would resemble, to some extent, organizational development. We prepared for two-way learning: 1) what were UFI CLT stakeholders thinking about their organization’s role? and 2) what could we as a team bring to UFI CLT from practitioners around the country that would inform their path forward? (for background on the CLT and urban agriculture movements see pages 16-20 of the field project report).

(Peyri Herrera, Creative Commons 2.0)

At the beginning of our project, our team took stock of what we each brought to the table. Our knowledge spanned community land trusts and their history, cooperative governance practices, how to build an urban farm, and community engagement across farmers and surrounding neighbors. We spent about six weeks honing our team process and understanding how our strengths fit together. Some of us jumped in with dozens of ideas while others listened and helped prioritize with strategic questions. Some of us possessed deep content knowledge, while others lifted up the voices of our partners, making sure our own backgrounds didn’t cloud our ability to hear other stakeholders. Eventually, we each ended up playing all of these roles. Once we’d found this internal rhythm, and identified the questions outlined above, we felt ready to engage further with stakeholders from UFI CLT.

As we prepared for interviews with stakeholders, we framed our role as “reflectors” or “organizational developers.” We recognized the importance of unpacking key terms like stewardship, management, and governance by listening to a broad range of people involved in the UFI CLT. Our team conducted interviews, participated in the Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference, and attended Greater Boston Community Land Trust Network activities to get to know a range of stakeholders. In this process, we found, for example, that a part-time farmer, UFI staff member, and UFI CLT board member had similar and different concerns about land management. While everyone agreed that roles for snow and weed removal needed to be appropriately delegated, stakeholders held different ideas about the lease length. Rather than choosing our preferred answers, we reflected the range of interviewees’ ideas back to the UFI CLT board in our report (see UFI Stakeholder Interviews, pages 28-37, for more).

After we synthesized our interviews, we regrouped as a team to grapple with this question: beyond the ideas and needs of various stakeholders, what information could we provide UFI CLT? How could we avoid telling the organization what they already knew? To address this question, we identified key areas for further exploration from other urban and rural agriculture CLTs in the United States. In particular, we wanted to know how other CLTs navigated stewardship, land agreements, governance, community engagement in the context of farming and supporting commercial enterprises. After surveying the field of Community Land Trusts around the country, we conducted interviews with representatives of five key cases from Providence, RI, Anchorage, AK, Madison, WI, Great Barrington, MA, and Roxbury, MA. In our report, the stories of these cases came alive in “vignettes” that illustrated the opportunities and challenges they faced in vivid color (see Case Studies, pages 39-69).

Now that we’d collected the inside and outside perspectives on urban farming via the CLT model, it was time to synthesize these practices as tools for UFI CLT. Rather than forming rigid recommendations, we opted for a “value framework” strategy for conveying our findings. Our team identified fairness, inclusivity, and balancing responsibilities as critical for a successful initiative. From this foundation, we developed tools that the UFI CLT board could use as potential next steps in developing their land agreements, policies, and operational procedures (see pages 72-80 for a description of a Stewardship Compass, a Land Agreement Checklist, and a Governance Checklist). We also provided guides to inform the writing of leases, the development of stewardship plans, and how to adjust these expectations and agreements for farmers at different levels of training–early, beginning, and advanced. Finally, we outlined possible roles for UFI and UFI CLT at each stage of a farmer’s development (see page 81 for Farmer Development Scenarios).

Since finishing our field project in the spring, our team has sent the report out to dozens of urban agriculture and community land trust practitioners. We see the resource as a set of organizational development tools that any CLT or urban agriculture initiative can use to bridge the two movements. The process of creating an urban farming CLT touches on dozens of considerations: how can the model best support farmers at different stages of training? How is adapting the CLT model to housing similar to and different from farming? Who should be on the board and included in the membership? We hope that readers from across the CLT and urban agriculture movements will use our report as a guide to ask themselves the most important questions as they negotiate how to act on their values and implement fair, inclusive, and sustainable practices that fit their particular contexts.

Teaching Democracy: Popular Education Training 2018

By Zoë Ackerman

Teaching Democracy is a train-the-trainers program and web platform for building the capacity of Tufts and community practitioners in popular education and community-based education methods. It was co-created by Tufts Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning (UEP) with several of its community partners. These methods arise from community organizing and empowerment practices, particularly with marginalized groups. They support reflection and action in order to transform the world. They break down the rigid separation between teacher and learner—all are learners and can facilitate learning for others.

The workshop was piloted in the spring of 2016 with a group of nine students and 10 members of four partner groups. In the spring of 2018, 30 participants completed the training. About half were from Tufts and half from seven partner organizations. The diverse mix of participants helps to enrich the learning, as well as deepen UEP’s community partnerships. With the support of Tisch College at Tufts, Teaching Democracy will be offered as a one credit hour course starting in spring 2019. The course will be open to both students and community partner members.

The following vignette describes my experience in the 2018 Teaching Democracy program. The scene starts with a practice workshop on the second day of training, which my small group planned and ran for other participants. We were simulating a meeting for public school parents to discuss proposed changes to school start times.

TD March 2018
Teaching Democracy participants discussing approaches to community engagement.

“Welcome to our community meeting on school schedules. Let’s start off with an icebreaker. Please stand up and wave your arms if you’ve attended a meeting with us before!” I said. My team waited for a few seconds, but not a single one of the 10 Teaching Democracy training participants stood up.

“I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Yeah, and how long is this going to take? I don’t have all night.”

“I don’t really feel comfortable with standing up.”

“No hablo ingles. ¿Alguien me podría ayudar?”

My team had lofty goals during this first practice workshop. Through interactive methods, we aimed to center lived experiences around school schedules and give our participants the tools to collectively plan a campaign. But before our workshop had even begun, we were running into problems. In real-time, we experienced the effects of not establishing trust with our members. By diving right into an interactive and unnerving exercise without introducing ourselves and clarifying our goals for the session, the participants felt reticent to engage.

Through this simulated practice, we learned how popular education methods can result in bottom-up learning and fruitful action plans only when built on a foundation of trust. Most people who attend traditional meetings or classes expect that experts will deposit information in a top-down fashion. Popular education, on the other hand, shifts who is seen as a “legitimate source of knowledge” to include those experiencing direct effects of an issue. Depending on how sessions are facilitated, the environment can feel chaotic or like an intentional exercise in community-building. Learning to walk that line takes practice, and the Teaching Democracy training created space for Tufts and community members working on social justice issues in Greater Boston to explore these methods and learn together.

Over the course of two Saturdays, we were introduced to the principles and values of popular education as well as strategies for effective facilitation. The majority of the training was interactive; only so much can be learned from the books about popular education. One of the most important takeaways for me was learning how to set agendas in a way that allowed a group identify root causes to a problem. I won’t give away how we ran our second workshop, but it involved more transparency and trust-building, centering participants’ complex lived experiences, decentralizing leadership roles, and ending on unexpected and energizing new problem to solve together.

Owning Main Street: Three Finance Innovations for Community Control of Development

By Allison Curtis

Main Street businesses provide access to goods and services and generate jobs and ownership opportunities for local residents. But more than these economic roles, they also enhance vibrant and safe street life. As important as these commercial districts are, residents may not feel much control as businesses move in and out, shifting the fabric of the places they live. Commercial gentrification, for example, can displace local business owners that provide culturally and community specific goods and services to make room for chain stores that can pay higher rents.

In 2015, Oksana Mironova joined a Facebook discussion with others in New York City who were concerned about “seeing small businesses vanish, seeing places that have important community roles… vanish” due to the increasing prices of land in the City and its impact on local businesses and organizations. The online thread led to an in-person meet-up. This group of community members was ready to take action, but was faced with a daunting question: how can a community gain control over commercial development?

The group ultimately decided to collectively invest in real estate development through a somewhat new tool designed to address commercial real estate affordability — the real estate investment cooperative (REIC). Investing pooled funds in real estate would enable these community members to more directly control commercial development.

In Boston, a group of Black and Latino workers pursued this same idea of collective ownership to form CERO, a worker cooperative providing organic recycling services. And when they needed startup capital, they opened up investment to local community members through a direct public offering (DPO).

Cooperative investment in real estate development and collective ownership of local businesses are just two ways that communities are trying to exert control over their main streets. Boston Ujima Project, which is building a community investment fund, is taking democratic control one step further by running a participatory budgeting process among its members to decide how to allocate their capital fund. These three projects are examples of community-based financing and cooperative ownership, particularly to support businesses that have community value but lack access to capital. These attempts to “own Main Street” are each described in further detail below.


Real Estate Investment Cooperatives

Popularized in the United States by the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) in Minneapolis, a real estate investment cooperative is an organization designed for buying and developing real estate. They provide a structure through which community members can collectively invest in commercial or office space to ensure that the amenities and services they want in their communities can be financed.

Mironova and her associates became the New York City Real Estate Investment Cooperative, “a group of over 500 New Yorkers who are pooling their money and power to secure space for community, small business, and cultural use in NYC.” By gathering funds from community members to financially support the purchase of real estate around the city, NYC REIC hopes to re-establish the community’s control of development.

“We want to play a role in helping people pool money and make decisions based on cooperative principles of keeping nonresidential spaces affordable. For a lot of people that’s thinking about commercial space, but also office space for nonprofits, manufacturing spaces… supporting non-speculative development” says Mironova.

Each investor, regardless of their investment amount, holds a single vote in deciding how money will be spent. While they have yet to purchase their first property, NYC REIC hopes to partner with other organizations to help maintain the affordability of property after it is purchased, perhaps transferring the ownership to a community land trust or other non-profit.

Residents of communities where real estate prices are increasing, like New York City, are not the only ones seeking new ways to finance business and real estate. Finding the capital to support and finance commercial projects is a general challenge, particularly in lower and moderate income communities that are perceived as “risky” for investors.


Direct Public Offerings

In 2012 a group of community members from the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and representatives from the Boston Workers Alliance and MassCOSH (Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health) came together to create a worker-owned compost diversion enterprise. They sought to build sustainable employment opportunities within a growing green economy while also addressing the need for composting.

However, CERO (Cooperative Energy, Recycling and Organics, also “zero” in Spanish) struggled to access financing. Without a historical record of business success, customers, or collateral, banks were not interested in providing a loan for the new business. And because they were a business, not a non-profit, many foundations were also uninterested or unable to invest in the project.

Lor Holmes, CERO’s general manager, remembers the process: “We needed capital. We had none of our own. We were all low-income and working class. Most everybody was working at least one other job. We went around to all the usual places, traditional banks, and we couldn’t offer them what they needed. We didn’t have a record; we didn’t have customers, inventory, any collateral. That knocked out almost all of the places that businesses get money.”

CERO was also committed to being a worker-owned cooperative, and thus could not offer equity shares to investors because any profit they made would go back to the worker-owners of the business. The worker-owners involved in the founding of CERO were residents of the community that would be served by the business, deepening the company’s tie to the area.

After securing a small loan from the Cooperative Fund of New England and the Boston Impact Initiative and raising a bit more cash and community support through a crowdfunding campaign, CERO decided to explore an alternative finance method: a direct public offering or DPO. When large companies or corporations launch publicly in the stock market, they provide individual public offerings, or IPOs. An IPO provides the opportunity for companies to sell shares to institutional investors and/or retail investors. However in order to purchase an IPO an investor must work with an underwriting firm and have a net worth of at least $1 million or an income of at least $200,000 for the past year.

As opposed to IPOs, DPOs are self-administered and self-underwritten public securities. Unlike a typical crowdsourcing platform like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, DPOs are public offerings where individuals can buy stock in the company and thus potentially gain a return on their investment if the company is successful. Based on the type of DPO that they establish, companies may be restricted to targeting a single geographic location or be able to reach a wider base online. CERO, for example, could only accept investments from within Massachusetts. For companies that do not have the collateral to access loans from banks, a DPO provides an opportunity to build a pool of equity capital that could be used as collateral while also offering community investors partial ownership of the business and direct involvement in its development.

For CERO, the DPO process ended up costing about $20,000 (spent mostly on legal fees and advertising) but eventually raised $370,000 from 85 investors. 95% of those investors live in Eastern Massachusetts; many are from Dorchester and the other surrounding neighborhoods that CERO serves. As noted by Holmes, most of these investments were of $2,500, the minimum investment amount, and most investors had never made a stock purchase before.

Ujima Logo

Ujima’s Community Capital Fund

Not far from CERO’s home base in Dorchester is another organization seeking to find new ways to finance community businesses and services through collective ownership. The Boston Ujima Project, founded in 2016, is an organization with a mission to create “a new community controlled economy in Greater Boston.”

In 2014, a group of four local organizations came together to address funding needs for grassroots organizations and movement building in the Boston area. After a few years of studying the needs of local communities, these organizations came to the conclusion that a system was needed to provide access to capital for community needs that could be administered directly by the community. They studied a variety of different models and decided to pull aspects of a handful of cooperative frameworks to create a larger initiative, now called the Boston Ujima Project.

One of Ujima’s key programs, the Community Capital Fund, pools money from local community members to be invested in businesses and entrepreneurs that are voted on by members. The Community Capital Fund uses a participatory budgeting model wherein all Ujima members who are residents of Boston have an equal vote as to how the money is spent, regardless of how much they have invested. Membership costs just $25 for adults, and members also have a vote in deciding on the community standards that each investment must adhere to — for example, paying a living wage or a focus on environmental sustainability.

While Ujima is still developing the fund and has yet to allocate capital through this process, the fund will eventually be distributed to small businesses and real estate projects through its Neighborhood Assemblies and Good Business Alliance and Worker Services Network. The fund itself is made up of contributions from members, impact investors, philanthropic foundations, faith based organizations, and anchor institutions. Ujima hopes that the fund will provide an opportunity for the market needs of community members to be heard and provided for outside of a typical investment structure.


Democratizing Finance, Democratizing Development

Democratizing the finance structure of community development leads to a more diverse set of funding options, encouraging businesses that may not be able to access conventional funding sources to open and increase access to goods and services to the community. This democratization also provides the general public more opportunities to access to the financial benefits of investment.

Main street districts can be the lifeline of a community — providing jobs, access to goods and services that people need, and a place for people to gather and connect with one another. By democratizing the investment process, the community is invited to share in the success and benefits of commercial development, while being directly involved in deciding what happens in these districts.

[Note: this article is based on Allison’s 2018 master’s thesis for the Tufts University Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning: Extending Community Control over Commercial Development: Community Land Trusts and Community Finance Models]

CORE Fellows Summer 2018

Each summer, two Tufts UEP graduate students work with community partners for a 10-week fellowship through the CoRE (Co-learning/Co-education) partnership.  Funded by Tisch College, fellows get hands-on experience in community planning, organizing and development.  And the fellows help to deepen collaboration between  Tufts and its community partners. In summer 2018, Lydia Collins worked with Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative’s community land trust in Roxbury and Zoë Ackerman was a fellow with Community Labor United. Read their accounts below.

Lydia Collins, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

This summer I worked with the Dudley Neighbor’s Incorporated (DNI) Community Land Trust (CLT). A subsidiary of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), DNI was created to implement and develop a resident-driven comprehensive master plan that guides the revitalization of the neighborhood. As a Tufts UEP CORE fellow, I was placed with DNI for a summer fellowship as part of a larger university-community partnership. The CORE program, “moves beyond the typical one-off project model of community engagement towards a more reciprocal, place-based model in which both university and community partners ‘co-learn’ and ‘co-produce’ knowledge.”

DSNI CORE 3 gen Aug 2018
3 UEP generations at DSNI (from left to right: Lydia Collins, Sharon Cho, Ben Baldwin) with Amethyst Carey at the August Multicultural Festival

During these ten weeks at DNI I engaged in many different activities with a wide range people. I worked on a youth engagement process, a fundraising initiative, multiple mapping projects, and significant community outreach. I spent my days brainstorming with coworkers, watching presentations from developers and municipal planners, and talking with neighbors. The setting of my fellowship stretched from the DNI office in Roxbury to the Tufts library printing room in Somerville to triple decker porches and many places in between.

To provide a richer glimpse into this experience, please join in a day in my life:

9:30AM-10AM: Boston is awake and so am I! I bike from my house in Somerville across city to the DNI office in Roxbury. Depending on the humidity level, some days I find myself nearly swimming down Mass Ave…

10AM: I roll into work promptly at 10 o’clock, sink into my chair, and exclaim how hot it is to my boss and past DSNI CORE fellow, Ben Baldwin, who, as per usual, passed me on his bike 20 minutes earlier. We talk briefly about the day and any upcoming meetings before getting started on work.

10:15-12: Opening my computer, I begin editing a flyer advertising an upcoming “Pop Up” event to showcase DNI’s newly acquired building in Upham’s Corner. I toggle over the (pop)sicle my coworker’s daughter modeled the previous day for the flyer and muse over how creative we are in serving this sweet treat at a pop up. I blow up the word “Pop!”, translate the flyer into Spanish, send a request to community organizer, Jose, for a Cape Verdean Creole translation, and print out copies to get feedback from other staff.

12-12:45: Hungry, I pop up over the cubicle wall and invite my coworker, Amethyst, to grab lunch with me at Nos Casa, a Cape Verdean restaurant down the street. Over couscous and fish, we brainstorm for our upcoming youth engagement meeting at Teen Empowerment.

1PM-5PM: Stomach full, I settle in for the afternoon, which could include a variety of any of the following activities: updating a database of potential urban planning professors in Boston as a fundraising strategy to bring people to the CLT for tours; walking around handing out flyers for an upcoming community meeting; dancing for 2 marvelous minutes when the development team lands a grant; completing surveys in living rooms and on porches with CLT homeowners to improve DNI’s operations; and teaching myself graphic software to update a parcel map.

5PM-6PM: Ready to talk to some teens at Teen Empowerment, Amethyst pops up from her desk, exclaims how we really need a fisheye mirror to make cross-cubicle communication easier, and let’s me know it’s time to mobilize. Twenty minutes later, Amethyst and I are standing in front of 25 young people from the DSNI neighborhood at Teen Empowerment’s summer programming. Fan humming in the background, we take turns explaining the community land trust, the recent acquisition of a new building, and why it matters that young people in the neighborhood have their voices recorded and implemented in development processes. We hand out paper and pens for the teens write down their visions for both the building and the neighborhood. They then stand up and tape their pieces of paper on a large cityscape poster of the neighborhood. We wrap up with a debrief, having them share their ideas with the group.

6:30PM: Buzzing with energy from the youth and the sugar from all the popsicles, Amethyst and I put the feedback in our backpacks and bid farewell until the next day…

I learned so much this summer and attribute much of that to the responsibility my coworkers gave me, exposing- and trusting- me with a wide range of projects and people that the organization interacts with on a daily basis. I grew not only professionally as I began to understand the realities, challenges, and victories of maintaining a community land trust, but also personally as I built lasting friendships and a deeper sense of what it really means to sustain healthy communities.

Zoë Ackerman, Community Labor United

When I think about designing an inclusive public meeting, several considerations come to mind. Is the location close to public transportation? Will there be language interpretation? A meal? Is the room physically accessible? Will there be child care?

Zoe presenting to the Care that Works coalition (photo: Sarah Jimenez)

Before my Tisch CoLearning/CoResearch (CoRE) fellowship with Community Labor United, I’d never considered that child care at public meetings is essential because there is no affordable after-hours child care system in place for families. If parents are unable to find reliable care, they can’t attend meetings, night classes, or accept jobs that operate outside of typical business hours. The dearth of affordable and accessible child care is an underestimated barrier to building a thriving economy.

Community Labor United is an organization based in downtown Boston that strives to bring together unions and community-based organizations around strategic campaigns that advance the interests of low and middle-income working families. In an effort to build a universal child care system—one that serves the needs of both families and child care providers—Community Labor United convened a coalition called “Care That Works.” A short-term goal of the coalition is to make nonstandard care available for union construction and hospitality workers’ children. When I came on board, members were trying to understand the barriers and opportunities for providers to offering nonstandard schedule care. This became my main line of inquiry.

Answering this question was not so simple, however, as conducting a literature review. Very little has been written about child care from providers’ perspectives—and recommendations I encountered also needed to fit with CLU’s values and strategy. Throughout the summer, I worked closely with CLU’s Senior Researcher Sarah Jimenez, Senior Organizer Lindsay McCluskey, and coalition members to understand their previous work and short and long-term goals. After an initial literature scan, we designed an interview protocol and interviewed 15 child care experts to fill in holes in our understanding. Sarah and I continuously checked in about our findings and methods with the base-building members’ experiences and worked collaboratively to establish priorities. By the end of the summer, we had delineated dozens of interconnected answers about how MA could cultivate a child care system that offers affordable care for families with nonstandard schedules. A few highlights of the research process included attending a CLU-sponsored briefing about child care at the State House and presenting at the Care That Works August coalition meeting. In both experiences, I learned strategies for translating dense research into relatable and action-oriented terms.

I can’t overstate how important this summer was for my development at UEP. The project not only laid the groundwork for my thesis and a GIS project, but clarified how I want to spend the rest of my time here at Tufts—learning the tools, methods, and strategies of movement-based research so that I can apply these skills to child care and other issue areas in the future.

A recent conversation with Sarah highlighted how CLU benefited from the partnership as well. In general, the organization seeks to be more intentional and strategic about drawing on existing resources available in higher education. CLU wants to work with more students and develop a pipeline for bringing them into movement research and organizing. The summer fellowship, in particular, is a valuable model because of its “full-time” nature; it’s different than having a student come in for a few hours each week. The organization is also looking to engage with academics to figure out how higher education as a whole can better support movement work. Throughout the summer fellowship, CLU developed a stronger tie with Tisch College and is moving closer to achieving these long-term objectives.

This summer showed me first-hand how a marriage between research and organizing can propel movement work forward. Even though my focus was on child care, I am deeply inspired by movement research, and look forward to applying the methods to other issues in the future: transportation, climate change, energy, housing, and more.

CLU convened a “People’s Field Day” in July 2018 (photo: 617MediaGroup)

Article online: Urban food sharing and the emerging Boston food solidarity economy

An article that I and Julian Agyeman wrote has just been published online in Geoforum journal. This piece will be part of a forthcoming special issue on Food Sharing. We continue to follow the emerging food solidarity economy in Boston and look at the potentials and challenges to its growth.

Check it out at:



A food solidarity economy has been sprouting in Boston’s lower income neighborhoods and communities of color, rooted in struggles for control over the food system itself. Though not centrally coordinated, this movement encompasses a varied network of nonprofits, social enterprises, and cooperatives, operating in all parts of the food system, from stewarding land and growing to processing, consumption, and composting. They span a range of urban food sharing practices: sharing stuff, spaces, and skills via collecting, gifting, and selling. They have taken collective ownership of land, created shared growing spaces, developed shared facilities for food businesses, opened a community cafe, and launched a worker-owned food recycling cooperative. They are driven by desires for transformation and are decommodifying the food system and increasing the urban food commons.

This paper offers a critical, but hopeful, examination of the transformational potential of this growing food solidarity economy by viewing it as a local social movement. We draw on the theory and practice of solidarity economy and diverse community economies to highlight the possibilities for encouraging economies that go beyond the constraints of capitalism. But we also use an urban political ecology lens to foreground the challenges of neoliberalism to a food solidarity economy. We assess the trajectories of transformation in three dimensions: ideological, political, and economic. We conclude that transformation will likely require reforming neoliberalized policies and institutions, while at the same time building noncapitalist practices. A network approach to building scale seems promising, including building the movement’s own solidarity financing vehicles.


Solidarity economy
Food sharing
Food justice
Community land trust