Haley House's Urban Farming

Haley House, a beloved organization with a long history serving Boston residents, is using a grant from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health to further its youth programming and urban farming in Roxbury.


Urban farming—and the experiences it provides Boston youth—is just one aspect of Haley House, which originated in 1966 as a soup kitchen. Today, people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity can get breakfast and lunch most days at the original location in the South End (23 Dartmouth Street). Haley House also offers extensive affordable housing options, runs a social enterprise bakery café in Dudley Square—and, of course, a farm and a schoolyard garden in the middle of the city. 


The farm is located at 95 Thornton Street and co-licensed from the City of Boston with Hawthorne Youth & Community Center. Grant funding from Boston Children’s supports the role of Anna Pierce-Slive as Haley House’s urban farm coordinator (she came on board in 2018). Work that was formerly performed by dedicated, but busy, volunteers now benefits from professional oversight. “That’s huge,” she says. “It really keeps our work sustainable. Part of what makes the farm dynamic and complex is the many stakeholders. This incredible ecosystem of community members and neighbors have invited us to be on the land, so we’ve got a duty to them. We’re trying to be the bond, the glue, to hear everyone and integrate everyone’s collective vision.”


One of the many things the farm offers to the community is an urban oasis and outdoor classroom space—and several local schools take advantage. “Every opportunity to learn outside the classroom is beautiful,” says Luis Arroyo, science specialist at the nearby Nathan Hale School. Last spring, each of the elementary school’s classes visited the farm. Lessons varied by age; younger students, for example, started with the basics, studying seeds. “They’re learning the sequential order of things,” Arroyo says, “so, for example, we observe that you need a seed before you get a plant.” Fifth-graders, meanwhile, learned more advanced lessons. “Because it was springtime, there was a lot blooming. The little ones got to see apple trees with flowers and tiny baby apples. We also got a chance to see snakes, insects, rabbits, turkeys and other birds—all this right in the city. It’s a special place.”


It's an exciting time for the farm; the addition of Pierce-Slive, who brings an impressive agricultural background, has opened up possibilities. “We’re in this great exploratory phase,” Pierce-Slive says. “We’re working with all these schools and community members, asking ourselves what’s unique that we can offer.” 


Some schools simply want to let younger students “bring a bag lunch, run around and feel free.” Others bring a more formal agenda; climate change and farming’s role—beneficial or detrimental—is a popular theme. Many groups participate in taste testing dozens of greens, culminating in a salad party. Pierce-Slive enjoys this variety. “As time goes on,” she says, “blessed with this grant, we can hone what we do. It’s about connecting with local partners and better understanding what can we offer that’s most impactful.”


As far as Arroyo is concerned, the impact is there already. “I plan to make this a regular part of my curriculum,” he says. “Anytime I get a chance to help the kids get outside and make a real-life, hands-on connection … well, you need to take advantage of that.”

Haley House