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YouthGROW (Growing and Raising Organics in Worcester)
A Local Food System Grows an Alternative Economy

By Matt Feinstein, YouthGROW

How to Start Meeting Economic Needs

An economy should fulfill three basic human necessities of a sustainable community: 1) food, 2) a healthy environment, and 3) a genuine sense of security and safety.

YouthGROW, an urban agriculture and environmental justice youth program, along with several other affiliated and partnering community- based organizations, is working to tackle the first two of these needs for its inner-city neighborhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. YouthGROW’s agri- cultural and community organizing initiatives significantly contribute to community centers, grassroots activist organizations, food pantries, a local restaurant, a natural food cooperative, and community gardens within a ten block radius of the farm. This re-localized emphasis on organic food production, cooperative business, and community-based health efforts provides a concrete alternative to the profit-driven, environmentally destructive, and exploitative economy that currently reigns number one.

YouthGROW emerged out of the Regional Environmental Council’s community gardens program, Urban Garden Resources Of Worcester (UGROW), which helps community groups transform derelict lots into community-run gardens and green spaces. The YouthGROW Reaching Out team will assist the formation of two new garden groups while sharing their organic agriculture expertise with four of Worcester’s most active community gardens (Castle Street, Oread Place, Hawley Street, and Richard Street).

We grow food for ourselves, our neighbors, and those who need it.

In the first year of the summer program’s existence, youth and staff grew 750 pounds of organic produce on a previously abandoned half-acre urban lot. YouthGROW has recently begun its second year and provides employment for fourteen teenagers and serves as a model urban farm. YouthGROW distributes the freshest possible vegetables in the form of mutual aid to the Mustard Seed food pantry, Centro Las Americas (Latino youth food distribution center), Food Not Bombs (which gives out food and do-it-yourself literature), and also to participants’ families and neighbors. The young community leaders also market their produce to two businesses one block away ­ the ARTichoke Food Cooperative and One Love Café (a one-woman owned and run Jamaican restaurant). Though this project is local, it is significant for the struggling Worcester neighborhood. Efforts total over 3,100 person-hours, $4,000 worth of organic produce, and sixteen employment opportunities per year.

We make toxic places into healthy spaces.

In collaboration with a grassroots soil-remediation group (Worcester Roots Project http://www., teens examine lead contamination and the disproportionate number of cases of lead poisoning in communities of color and poor areas of Worcester. They also test new, affordable soil cleaning techniques using plants and compost. Test sites of the Worcester Roots Project, such as the YouthGROW Community Farm and other neighborhood yards, host home-propagated scented geraniums and other "phyto-remediators" (plants that clean).

YouthGROW, along with many other groups around the world who are part of the urban agriculture and environmental justice movements, is tackling the question, "How do we create alternative economic and social systems that provide food and safe places for children to grow up, especially in neglected urban city centers?" The next step is to take the project’s community empowerment education to the next level to deal with community security. In collaboration with Worcester Global Action Network and the proposed Harm Free Zones ( hfz.rtf), communities dissatisfied with policing or violence can build awareness, skills, and mediation bodies from the ground up to deal with security issues, while also maintaining their autonomy.

For more information, see our web site:, check out our YouthGROW Local Food System map, and contact Matt Feinstein: at This article was originally written for and included in the Other Economies Are Possible Reader; see

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