By Akbota Saudabayeva
2 min read
In an endeavor to create a consistent source of free, fresh produce for their community food delivery program, the nonprofit Building Audacity launched an indoor hydroponics farm as part of Jean Charles Academy (JCA), their dual-language school that prioritizes and celebrates Black and brown student success. Based in Lynn, Building Audacity’s primary mission is to support youth-led change-making and foster inclusive, youth-focused learning environments in the greater Boston area. Their program, “On the Grow,” focuses on distributing this hydroponically-grown produce to areas of high POC populations in Boston, Cambridge, Charleston, Lynn, and Lowell.
Hydroponic farming refers to the growing of crops without soil; the process also uses substantially less water as compared to traditional agricultural methods and allows for up to 50 pounds of produce to be grown in just 1.4 square feet. In collaboration with Tufts University’s 2020 Green Fund Winners Kevin Cody and René LaPointe Jameson, Building Audacity has allocated 1,100 square feet of space in JCA for their crops and expects a yield of around 50,000 lbs of produce every six weeks. Not only does this growth method minimize the impact of the agricultural industry on the environment, but it also increases the accessibility of fresh produce to low-income BIPOC communities in and around Boston.
To Building Audacity Founder Nakia Navarro, the construction of the hydroponic farm speaks to how Black people do not own land in the United States. According to the 2002 USDA report, “Who Owns the Land,” white people own 98 percent of private agricultural land in the United States and account for 96 percent of the owners. Despite making up 13 percent of the national population, Black people own just one percent of America’s rural land.
"Hydroponics is old—the hanging gardens [of Babylon] are actually hydroponic gardens. So our ancestors have given us this blueprint, and they've taught us how to sustain ourselves with it. So why not teach the hood this, right? Why not teach folks who don't have fresh produce [...] and give them sovereignty over what they ingest? That's why I chose hydroponics. It speaks to not having access to land and also being sovereign over what you ingest,” said Navarro.
The hydroponic center also serves as a space for JCA students to learn about sustainable urban farming techniques and practices, as well as apply mathematical concepts in real-world settings. This project-based model of learning is an essential part of JCA’s interdisciplinary curriculum and offers students a culturally-engaged pedagogy. For Building Audacity and JCA, youth are always prioritized.
"When people ask me what it is like to be a youth-led organization, [I say] I feel like I'm really living our ancestors’ wildest dreams of actually listening and learning with and building something new and different," said Navarro.
Alongside the hydroponic farm and the opening of Jean Charles Academy, the organization is running several covid-relief programs that prioritize community needs during the pandemic; including a GOTVac campaign of phonathons, pop-ups, and canvassing that encourages Black and Latinx communities in Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, and Lynn to create vaccination plans; a mobile pantry, and distributable self-care kits.
*Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #141 December 2021