Agriculture in the World

Year-Round Farming in Massachusetts? How the State Is Investing in Solutions.


Eastie Farm’s new “zero emissions” greenhouse is tucked down a slim alley, a block from the expressway, in a gritty East Boston nook. The gleaming construction rises amid gardens landscaped with native crops: milkweed, choke weed, huckleberry, mountain mint, paw paw saplings, and two giant mulberry bushes.

The flexibility to cram city permaculture farms into unbelievable spots and rework these forgotten areas into vibrant, welcoming, group training and meals distribution facilities is the genius of Eastie Farm, which Civil Eats first lined in 2019. On an early fall day, the positioning buzzes with exercise. A dozen or so residents with younger kids line up for his or her group supported agriculture (CSA) shares whereas workers shortly kind by way of bins of inexperienced beans, apples, pumpkins, and corn bought from native farms. Contained in the greenhouse, electricians full the circuitry for the geothermal vitality system that can pump warmth, from 450 ft beneath the floor, to maintain crops heat throughout cooler months.

Season extension—offering contemporary, native, nutritious meals all through the winter months—is an overarching objective, as is adapting to a altering local weather actuality, which is uncommon for this kind of program.  

Eastie Farm’s greenhouse will allow the city farm, which manages three mini-farms and 4 school-based gardens in East Boston, to increase its rising season and supply a winter classroom for its environmental training program. It expands the group’s capability to extend meals safety within the largely immigrant group, with a median family revenue beneath the remainder of Boston and the furthest common distance to a grocery retailer.

It’s certainly one of 20 greenhouses constructed at Massachusetts farms over the previous two years to extend the supply of domestically produced meals in underserved communities. A state-funded meals safety infrastructure grant program, launched on the peak of the pandemic, helped pay for the greenhouses, together with 487 different infrastructure initiatives, starting from meals supply vans and freezers to farm gear to a public housing authority’s vertical farming initiative. The $58 million program goals to make native, contemporary meals manufacturing extra environment friendly and accessible and to mitigate future crises by higher connecting native producers and harvesters to a resilient meals system.

Ashley Randle, deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Division of Agricultural Sources, says this system is a nationwide mannequin for “tips on how to shore up infrastructure to construct a extra sturdy, resilient meals system and native economic system.” Whereas it’s too early to measure this system’s influence, she says, “It really has been transformational to our native meals system in Massachusetts.”

Season extension—offering contemporary, native, nutritious meals all through the winter months—is an overarching objective, Randle says, as is adapting to a altering local weather actuality, which is uncommon for this kind of program.

“We’re listening to an increasing number of,” she says, “particularly after the final two years with the 2 climate extremes, that the crops that usually used to outlive or thrive within the area could have shorter rising seasons now, or shorter time to reap, and so farmers should adapt to these modifications.”

Zero Emissions Greenhouse

Local weather resiliency is core to Eastie Farm’s mission, partially as a result of it’s positioned in a neighborhood that’s susceptible to flooding and sea stage rise. When the city farm bought the concept to construct the greenhouse, it resolved to energy it totally with renewable vitality, stated Kannan Thiruvengadam, Eastie Farm’s director. “We needed to do one thing that’s good for the group, however with out compromising what’s good for future generations.”

Industrial greenhouses depend on a warmth supply, resembling propane gasoline, to maintain crops heat in winter and develop seedlings in early spring in cooler climates. Greenhouses additionally use electrical energy to energy giant followers for air circulation and air flow and develop lights throughout winter. Power use varies by measurement, design, and placement, however gasoline prices are usually greenhouses’ third highest price behind labor and plant supplies.

Geothermal-powered greenhouses are extra widespread in areas with sizzling springs, however they’re uncommon within the East, which solely has “low temperature” geothermal assets—that’s the earth’s fixed warmth of about 55 levels Fahrenheit at a depth of 10 ft or extra. Eastie Farm’s geothermal system will harness this warmth year-round, holding crops heat in winter and cooling the area in summer season when temperatures outdoors can high 100 levels. Offering that pure cooling will cut back the necessity to run followers in the summertime.

An electrician works on the connection to the geothermal hydraulic system at Eastie Farm. Above is one layer of solar shades and the roof that opens. (Photo credit: Meg Wilcox)

An electrician works on the connection to the geothermal hydraulic system at Eastie Farm. Above is one layer of photo voltaic shades and the roof that opens. (Photograph credit score: Meg Wilcox)

Eastie will develop its personal seedlings and greens like kale, arugula, and spinach in winter, Thiruvengadam says. It’ll additionally ultimately develop subtropical and tropical fruits, resembling Zapote and avocado, and tree saplings in response to group requests.

The environmental and group teaching programs being deliberate on the greenhouse are equally vital, says Sebastian Tabares, supervisor of one of many city farm’s websites. Tabares says he teaches East Boston elementary faculty kids tips on how to “come again in tune with earth” once they’re feeling stress. “I’ve seen the change that it has on children.”

Constructed of glass, polycarbonate, and metallic, the elegant 1,500-square-foot greenhouse was designed by Dutch firm Gakon Netafim. Its vitality and water administration options embrace a roof that opens to let sizzling air out in the summertime; two layers of shades for passive warmth administration, together with blocking photo voltaic vitality on sizzling days or retaining the solar’s warmth on chilly days; and gutters that run throughout the roof’s ridges to channel rain or snow right into a 500-gallon, black rain barrel tank contained in the greenhouse. The tank offers irrigation water and acts as a thermal mass, radiating photo voltaic warmth absorbed through the day at nighttime.

Water overflow might be diverted right into a mini-aquifer Eastie created by excavating and changing impermeable clay underlying the positioning with a fill that enables water to percolate downward. “We received’t be sending water into town’s storm drains,” Thiruvengadam says.

Winter develop lights and the geothermal pumps might be powered with 100% renewable vitality by way of town’s Neighborhood Selection program.


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