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West Side ‘urban farm’ seeking an upgrade

A West Side “urban farm” that grows fresh produce, fish and chickens for impoverished neighborhoods while teaching people about agriculture and nutrition is seeking to get a permanent new “farmhouse” to host its services and food market.

The Massachusetts Avenue Project, known for its innovative services to West Side communities, wants to demolish an existing one-and-a-half-story pink house on the property at 387 Massachusetts Ave. It would replace that with a new permanent two-story structure, with a full basement, to be used as a community food training and resource center, as well as a year-round farm stand.

The nonprofit group will be seeking a city zoning variance later this month for a reduced setback, and will then return to the Buffalo Planning Board, which tabled the project on Tuesday.

“This project will allow us to have a home base where we can do training with young people, have increased food storage capacity, grow more food locally, and source more food from regional farmers to deliver,” said MAP Executive Director Diane Picard.

The property has been used for urban farming since 2003, providing food and training for young people. The organization employs 50 disadvantaged youth every year, teaching them about urban agriculture and policy. It also distributes the food it produces at its farm to “desert neighborhoods” in Buffalo through a mobile market and farm stands.

Besides the new 9,000-square-foot building, the site also includes two “hoop houses” with indoor planting, as well as an existing greenhouse. MAP raises and sells tilapia and chickens for local residents, many of whom are immigrants with “a lot of fish in their diet,” so “as soon as we have fish or chickens ready, they grab them,” Picard said.

“We call ourselves an urban farm,” she said, citing the organization’s mission to build the community system by providing local residents with economic opportunity, job training and access to healthy food.

The new timber-frame building would house those services, along with a teaching and community kitchen, and training space for community workshops. It would be made of corrugated metal panels but with a red terra-cotta appearance. Part of the roof will be metal or composite decking, while part will be covered with solar panels and a “green roof” feature.

“It’s meant to add sort of a farmhouse feel to it,” said Kevin Connors, architect at Eco-Logic Studio. “The site is a working farm.”