Food + Farms

Increasing food security is vitally important to ensuring the health and well-being of our communities, from neighborhood to national scales.  Obvious methods such as farmland protection are essential, but other means to ensure locally viable food systems independent of a fossil-fuel dependent global system are of equal importance to many communities.

Recent clients have hired the school to plan local food systems and to prioritize farmland for agricultural conservation. Students who work on these projects use GIS to map and analyze land resources, develop systems for weighing competing uses, explore alternative agricultural systems and food production methods, and delve into the social and economic relationships to food.

Recent projects include:

Food in the City: An old way in a new time

Across the country, interest is growing in the promise of urban agriculture to support more efficient, sustainable, and equitable ways of life. In Springfield, Massachusetts, through the leadership of the Springfield Food Policy Council and other community-based organizations, projects are underway to promote community-oriented and commercially oriented youth farms, home gardens, orchards, and community gardens. Significant challenges remain, however, to accessible, sustainable, and successful food production in the city. This report examines some of the benefits of and obstacles to urban agriculture in Springfield, and identifies strategies for overcoming the most significant barriers. It uses a GIS-based methodology, developed specifically for the City’s physical and social conditions, to evaluate the suitability of land for community gardens, commercial farms, community farms, and urban orchards, with a particular emphasis on city-owned, structure-free vacant lots. The process is meant to be scalable and applicable to other land suitability assessments. This report offers a model for how landscape designers and planners can work hand-in-hand with communities to develop achievable and sustainable urban agriculture plans.


Building Local Food Connections: A Community Food Assessment

The town of Concord, Massachusetts, is in the process of reviving a local food network to improve social, ecological, and economic resilience in the community. This community food system assessment analyzes the existing land use and food production patterns, food distribution models, processing and storage capacities, preparation and consumption patterns, and food waste management practices. Informed by community input, local case studies, and food systems research, this report offerssuggestions that stakeholders in Concord and surrounding towns could use to bolster local food systems. This study assesses the early phases of Concord’s long-term process towards greater food resilience, and highlights Concord’s opportunities to boost its participation in the regional effort to produce more healthy food locally, protect farmland and natural resources, and increase community connections around food.

Feed Northampton: First Steps Toward a Local Food System

What does it take to grow food locally and sustainably, while relying less on fossil fuel imports? A team of students addressed this question for the city of Northampton, Massachusetts. Outlining the social, political, economic, and environmental challenges, this report offers a model that responds to the challenges and offers tools for inventorying land and community assets while envisioning what is possible for Northampton. Read a review of this project in the Valley Advocate.


Does Franklin County, Massachusetts, have the land resources needed to achieve complete food self-sufficiency—to sustainably produce all of the food needed to feed its population? If such food independence is not achievable in the near future, how might a model of increased food self-reliance—with expanded local food production for local consumption and for the regional market—improve the community’s resilience and strengthen relationships that would benefit the residents of the county and of the larger region? These are the questions the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), working with a consortium of governmental and non-profit organizations, asked the Conway School to help it address. For this Conway School report the approach of an innovative foodshed analysis currently being developed by Brandeis University Professor Dr. Brian Donahue—the New England Food Vision—was adapted to help overcome the lack of Franklin County-specific data.

Homegrown in Tuscany, A Food System, Spannocchia, Tuscany, Italy

The current food system in the Val di Merse region of Tuscany reflects the growing commodification of food produced, moving toward single export crops such as grapes and olives rather than the historically more diverse crops. Land cover analyses revealed that although much of this rural landscape was abandoned in the later half of the twentieth century, farmland and woodlands still dominate the landscape. These lands might return to the intensely productive state that they were farmed under for thousands of years. However, in order for local agriculture to again become a reality in the Val di Merse region, the participants of the food system must work together to identify the obstacles to local agriculture and opportunities for bridging the gaps within the system.

Keep Bloomfield Farming: A Farmland Preservation Plan for Bloomfield, Connecticut

Students created a model that identified land suitable for farming and a scorecard method to prioritize existing farm parcels based not only on quality of soils, history of production, and size of parcel, but also its proximity to other open space, impacts on endangered species, and integrating recreational and economic opportunities.  The resulting report provides a strategy for local food security planning. The plan was integrated into the town of Bloomfield 2011 Plan for Conservation and Development.

Setting the Table: Towards Greater Food Security in Lowell, Massachusetts

Setting the Table:Towards Greater Food Security in Lowell, Massachusetts evaluates the barriers Lowell residents face in obtaining food and recommends actions that might be taken to further food security in the city.This report was created for the Lowell Food Security Coalition, a collaboration of forty community organizations, formed to help residents become more self-reliant and food- secure. Once the center of the textile industry, attracting workers from all over the world, Lowell today is still recovering from the departure of that and other industries. As some Lowell residents struggle to make ends meet, they can face the added challenge of finding food that is nutritious and culturally appropriate, in this city of immigrants. Setting the Table proposes strengthening Lowell’s food system through community resource centers, backyard gardens (including some as large as whole blocks), rooftop gardens, public orchards, community fish farms, dealing with soil contamination, recycling waste, healthy corner stores, and changes to zoning.”

A Sonoran Oasis: Developing a Local Food System for Ajo, Arizona

Deep in the Sonoran Desert, the community of Ajo, Arizona, is facing health and economic challenges related to their dependence on the availability of imported foods. Productive and ecologically sound land use is achievable through modern adaptations of traditional Sonoran Desert farming and water management techniques that maximize food production while respecting the limits of the desert. Most importantly, the community has an opportunity to gain self-determination.