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Meet James Harrison of The Food Project in Dorchester

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Harrison.

James, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I became involved in agriculture in college in Minnesota in the mid-nineteen-nineties through an organization called the International Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. It was there that I started down the rabbit hole of learning about food systems and the interconnected nature of health, the economy, and the land.

After college, I started a farm business called “Easy Bean Farm” in western Minnesota with several classmates from school.

After selling my share of this business to a partner, I moved to California and worked on farms in the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Area.

One of the things that stuck with me during my work on farms in MN and CA was the profound separation of people from the land. Whenever I left farm country, I couldn’t believe how little people at that time knew or thought about agriculture and what was happening on the land, and how little awareness people seemed to have about how their decisions affected farms, farm economies, and the land.

When I found out about The Food Project, I jumped at the chance to use what I had learned to help bring together youth and adults from diverse backgrounds to grow food and learn on the farm.

I have now worked at The Food Project for 13 years, starting off as farm manager, working my way up to Director of Agriculture and the North Shore Regional Director before becoming Executive Director in 2014.

What inspires and motivates me every day is our vision of a world where youth are active leaders, diverse communities feel connected to the land and each other, and everyone has access to fresh, high-quality food.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Aside from how emotionally and physically demanding the work is that we do every day at The Food Project, the biggest struggle is with trying to move forward with food system change in a society with such deep and longstanding social and financial inequality.

We are all experiencing the food system in such different ways based on who we are, where we’re from, our age, our race, our gender, etc. Coming together to imagine and work toward a better food system is just very hard work and the obstacles are many.

The Food Project – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Since our founding in 1991, The Food Project has grown into an internationally recognized non-profit organization that works at the intersection of Youth, Food, and Community.

For over 26 years, youth and adults from diverse backgrounds have come together to produce healthy food for residents of the city and suburbs and build local, sustainable food systems.

Each year, our four youth crews work with our staff to farm on 70 acres in eastern Massachusetts in the suburban towns of Beverly, Lincoln, and Wenham and partner with our neighbors in Lynn and Boston’s Dudley neighborhood to create the food system they imagine.

We believe that food is a unique vehicle for creating personal and social change. Nothing else ties us so intimately to each other and to the planet we share, affecting our health, the climate, and culture. Our vision is of a world where youth are active leaders, diverse communities feel connected to the land and each other, and everyone has access to fresh, high-quality food.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I often come to our farm sites in Boston, Lynn, and the suburbs early in the morning and just stand and reflect on everything that has happened over the years on each of these farms.

All the food grown, all the relationships built, the new ideas that has taken hold… these places are the kind of world I want to live in, and I am proud of the role I have helped in building new farms and supporting existing ones.

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