Teens not able to work on local farms that provide produce to needy families

BOSTON — A local nonprofit that will provide more than half-a-million servings of fruits and vegetables to families experiencing food insecurity isn’t getting the help they usually count on this summer.

It’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization that hires them said it’s a safety issue, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t getting to where it needs to be.

On a typical summer day, you’d see dozens of kids working on the farms but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they’re not being allowed to.

“It’s been extremely hard so we usually hire if you combine both regions over 120 high school age youth to operate our farm and distribution so that labor source is gone for this season,” said John Wang, North Shore Regional Director for The Food Project.

The non-profit organization The Food Project hires teenagers from diverse backgrounds each summer. They learn sustainable farming practices and help grow more than 200,000 pounds of food every year for under-served communities. This summer, though, instead of working on the farms, many of the teens are working on virtual projects, including developing a healthy food awareness campaign.

That has forced the Food Project to re-shift some of its staff to work on the farms and hire some alumni to come back and help.

“Even with that, it’s been a little hard because we rely on a lot of the physical hands-on labor as opposed to the mechanized pieces that’s part of our work developing meaningful work with young folks,” Wand said.

The Food Project sells local fruits and vegetables straight from their farms at their farmers’ markets in Boston and Lynn. During peak times they can serve up 1,500 people per week.

“We donate to a lot of hunger relief organizations that serve a lot of folks. They are seeing record numbers, like tripling or quadrupling, from their normal days,” Wang said.

The demand has been so high that the Food Project has tripled the number of mobile market sites to eleven.

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