January 11, 2023

Meet Groundwork Somerville’s New Urban Farm

Meet Groundwork Somerville’s New Urban Farm

We recently connected with Emily Reckard-Mota and Juliana Soltys from 2022 Sasaki Foundation Design Grants project Groundwork Somerville’s New Urban Farm. Groundwork Somerville is designing their new farm, office, and marketspace to provide a unique gathering space for the community to engage with the local food system, grow culturally relevant crops, and empower youth to become environmental leaders.

Sasaki Foundation (SF): What was the biggest inspiration behind your project?

Emily Reckard-Mota (ERM): Groundwork Somerville has managed Somerville’s only urban farm near Union Square for over 10 years. This is a vibrant community space designed to provide green jobs for youth and engage people of all ages in hands-on learning about their local food system. Somerville is the most densely populated city in New England and residents have little access to green space, let alone to farm space. Our project was inspired by the desire to provide our diverse community with growing space to be able to get our hands dirty together, cultivate belonging, celebrate a diversity of food traditions and cultures, and build a food system based on real, resilient relationships. 

Juliana Soltys (JS): In the next two to three years, our current farm site will be moving due to development in the area. We are working with designers to develop and design a plan for the new farm site. We are inspired by our high school youth and their ideas for what this new site could hold, like an outdoor kitchen, chicken coop, vegetable wash station, and more. We are excited to improve on our current farm site and develop a new urban farm that is shaped by current community voices.

East Somerville Community School soil lesson

Image courtesy Groundwork Somerville

SF: Who makes up the team? What are their backgrounds and expertise when it comes to the project?

JS: I joined Groundwork Somerville as the School Gardens Manager, maintaining 10 school gardens and running programming during and after school in Somerville. I bring my mechanical engineering and design background as well as my passion for gardening and community engagement.  As someone new to the Groundwork Somerville team, I bring a fresh perspective and new ideas as we reimage our new urban farm.  

ERM: I come to Groundwork as the Food and Farms Director, managing our quarter-acre urban farm to grow over 2,500 pounds of healthy produce each season, and engaging school and community groups in farm programming. I have a background in environmental studies and anthropology and I’ve worked in urban gardening and farming and food systems for the past six years. I bring a passion for food justice and community engagement, and expertise in farming, food systems, and education. 

Students learning about bees

Image courtesy Groundwork Somerville

SF: What is one of your favorite aspects about your work on this project?

JS: Having a blank slate to reimagine the farm space. This is an exciting opportunity to put all our farm wishlist items on the table and explore what this new space could become. We have many ideas and are excited about the ways we can grow and expand our impact as an organization by moving to a new space. 

ERM: Having community input to co-design a space when Somerville is being so quickly gentrified. Somerville residents currently have little input in what the future of Somerville public spaces will look like. We want to change that by reimagining how community and public spaces can be shaped by the people who live in the neighborhood and are most impacted by the development of new spaces. We are excited by this opportunity to engage with a variety of community members and hear everyone’s ideas for the new farm. We feel this could be the perfect way to engage more people in the farm for years to come.

SF: What are the aspirations you have for this project and the impact your work will make on your community?

ERM: With Somerville residents in mind, it is our goal to create a community farm space with more local involvement.  By engaging locals in the design process, we hope to not only expand the farm’s capabilities of growing food and providing educational space, but also to build a food system based on real, resilient relationships.

JS: Groundwork Somerville’s new urban farm will continue to grow and supply nutritious, culturally-relevant food to the Somerville community and provide farm-to-table capabilities of prepping and cooking the produce grown on site.  We hope to expand our current engagement with Somerville youth through field trips and additional employment opportunities. Overall, our goal is to create a space to learn and foster environmental justice, food justice, and racial justice programming.

SF: How can others get involved with the work you’re doing?

ERM: We are excited to involve community members and collect input on the new farm-design from Somerville residents. If you have suggestions or thoughts on how to shape this community farm space, please contact me at emily@groundworksomerville.org. Additionally, if you have skills or expertise in landscape architecture, construction, carpentry, or other skills you would like to share, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Groundwork Somerville Green Team members

Image courtesy Groundwork Somerville

Thanks so much to Emily and Juliana for their time, and to the entire Groundwork Somerville team for all their hard work on this impactful project. Stay tuned for future installments with more of our 2022 Design Grants teams!



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