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New community farmhouse will help diminish the ‘food desert’ in Buffalo

“Food deserts” have been well documented, including in the City of Buffalo. These are places where poor people without private transportation find it difficult to buy affordable, healthy fresh food, such as the fruits and vegetables people in better-off areas take for granted.

The problem makes the Rich Family Foundation’s announcement of a $200,000 gift for a new community farmhouse on the West Side especially well timed.

The gift allowed the Massachusetts Avenue Project to reach its $2 million fundraising goal. Groundbreaking on the 11,000-square-foot, two-story farmhouse, at 387 Massachusetts Ave., is expected in May, with construction completed by February 2017, as reported in The News.

MAP helps corner stores offer healthier food. Other cities, including New York City and Washington, D.C., have benefited from these types of programs. Now it’s Buffalo’s turn to benefit from the effort to provide resources and training that will offer low-income residents alternatives to processed foods.

As The News reported, MAP makes fresh produce available to low-income people. It also provides jobs and training to low-income youth, another resource not easily available to those without private transportation.

The organization has offices on Grant Street and uses a kitchen at Pilgrim-St. Luke’s Church. It stores tools in the current farmhouse, which will be demolished to make way for the new building.

The new farmhouse will go far beyond providing nourishing food – it will improve the nutritional skills of residents. The building will have a commercially licensed teaching kitchen for cooking classes, nutrition education and food preparation. It will feature indoor and outdoor training spaces, a teaching kitchen resource library, tool storage space and a home base for MAP’s Growing Green Program. In addition, the new farmhouse will feature 3,000 square feet of cold storage space and dry storage space.

MAP hires 50 people, ages 14 to 20, each year to work on the farm and learn about policy and civic engagement, communication, marketing and retail.

MAP is making a difference in Buffalo. Its refrigerated mobile market truck last year sold more than 30,000 pounds of organic produce to more than 3,699 low-income customers at six East Side stores. The East Side, lacking a full-size supermarket providing fresh food, is often what comes to mind when hearing the phrase “food desert.”

Tops Markets does have a store on Jefferson Avenue, thanks in part to years of work by neighborhood activists, and a bigger store on the Lower West Side. Those are a boon to nearby residents, but the food desert remains real for too many people.

The Rich Family Foundation’s generosity caps a fund drive that began in 2014 with a $300,000 donation from the Junior League/Buffalo News 2013 Decorators’ Show House at Knox Farm State Park. In between, many other public and private donors contributed to the effort to convert a bit of the food desert.