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  • Writer's pictureRyan Bani Tahmaseb

Eastie Farm: Cultivating Education, Nurturing Communities

This post is part of our ‘Reinventing Education' blog series, where we invite you to explore experiential learning opportunities in Greater Boston and embrace the potential for a new kind of educational ecosystem where learning thrives everywhere, not just in schools. Delve into the heart of innovative learning spaces that epitomize learner-centered education as we showcase our partners for the upcoming WPS Summer Leadership Institute, building exciting connections and celebrating the collaborative spirit that drives educational excellence and positive social change.

Welcome to the first installment of our exciting new blog series! We're thrilled to preview some highlights of our forthcoming Summer Leadership Institute, a three-week program running July 8-26 on our campus in Newton Centre, where high school students will immerse themselves in some of Greater Boston's most innovative spaces, learn skills needed to succeed in the real world, and begin to incubate their own community impact projects. Throughout this series, we'll explore the inspiring destinations Summer Leadership Institute students will visit. Our first stop? Eastie Farm, a community-driven space focused on environmental stewardship and sustainable agriculture.

Situated in the heart of East Boston, Eastie Farm sprouted into existence during the spring of 2015, spurred by the collective vision of local residents who eyed the neglected plot at 294 Sumner Street as an opportunity to cultivate a shared agricultural endeavor. A grassroots movement took shape, drawing together a diverse group of stakeholders, from dedicated neighbors to supportive businesses—all rallying behind the transformative potential of this venture.

Nurtured by the ingenuity of its founders, Eastie Farm stands not only as a testament to community resilience but also as a beacon of innovation, boasting the distinction of being the only closed-loop geothermal heat pump greenhouse in New England, with advanced shading systems and a rainwater collection system. Alongside this pioneering feature, the farm has already embraced freight farming, or vertical hydroponics inside a freight container. These initiatives underscore its dedication to sustainable agriculture and forward-thinking solutions.

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Will Hardesty-Dyck, the Greenhouse Manager at Eastie Farm. Reflecting on the farm’s beginnings, Hardesty-Dyck recollects, “It was really envisioned as a community space, where people from all walks of life, all ages, are able to participate and reap the benefits of the organization's work. We've formalized, of course, and we're now a registered nonprofit with a full staff. But we've tried to keep those original elements with the organization throughout its growth and strengthen them.”

Hardesty-Dyck's personal journey into the world of agriculture began at an early age, nurtured by formative experiences on his aunt's organic farm in upstate New York. “It was just a great time being up there, doing random farm chores and running around,” Hardesty-Dyck reminisces. Thanks to his early experiences on his aunt’s farm, Hardesty-Dyck’s trajectory was marked by agricultural pursuits, including academic endeavors, hands-on farming experiences, and educational stints abroad—all culminating in his present role at Eastie Farm.

“I figured this interest in agriculture had lasted, and I wanted ideally to put my interest to use in a way that was socially productive, good for communities, and good for the planet,” Hardesty-Dyck said. “And that's what led me to Eastie Farm, because I feel this is where all those things come together.”

Just as Hardesty-Dyck's early exposure to farming sparked a career in agriculture, we’re excited to give students attending our Summer Leadership Institute  the opportunity to experience farming early in their lives. This early exposure is a crucial step toward energizing and inspiring students to foster a greener economy. 

Hardesty-Dyck is excited to welcome WPS to Eastie Farm, too. “From the beginning, young people have been vital to the success of Eastie Farm,” Hardesty-Dyck said. “It's definitely a cliché, but young people really are the future. And so we think it's very important to train young people in green job skills, which is something we’ve been doing through a program of ours called Climate Corps.”

Climate Corps stands as a testament to Eastie Farm's commitment to nurturing the next generation of environmental stewards. Designed as a paid fellowship program for youth between the ages of 15 and 22, it offers a multifaceted curriculum encompassing climate change education, hands-on agricultural experiences, and collaborative research endeavors. Partnering with esteemed institutions such as MIT and Northeastern University, Eastie Farm strives to provide participants with a holistic learning experience, equipping them with the tools to effect positive change within their communities.

Eastie Farm also works to address systemic inequities within the local food landscape. East Boston is a food desert, which means it grapples with pervasive issues of food insecurity and limited access to fresh, nutritious produce. Eastie Farm works to address this inequity by providing a sustainable source of locally-grown produce while simultaneously supporting other regional farmers. It’s essential work that requires constantly making changes and trying new methods and ideas. 

Innovation in urban agriculture is a necessity,” Hardesty-Dyck explained. “You're forced to adapt to the conditions—you're not in a rural area where you have easy, plentiful access to land. Space and efficiency are paramount.”

However, within these challenges lies a profound opportunity for today’s young people to engage in creative exploration and experimentation. “They bring such curiosity and energy,” observes Hardesty-Dyck. “I'm interested in really getting them to think about how they could make something like Eastie Farm for their neighborhood—or another neighborhood that needs it. We strive to be a model. And that means we want ourselves to be replicated.”

Hardesty-Dyck’s insights reflect the ethos of Eastie Farm, where youth empowerment and community engagement are central. “If a young person is really interested in graphic design, or marketing—something like that—we're like, ‘Okay, great. You can help us out with that, and maybe you can teach some other youth along the way. Or maybe you’re really jazzed about hydroponics. You'll fit right into our freight farm!’ So yeah, we try to build in a lot of choice, because that's where the best learning happens.”

Moreover, Eastie Farm embodies the principles that underpin the WPS Institute's mission—specifically, fostering learning that’s directly connected to real-world problems, empowering learners to find tangible solutions, and facilitating meaningful connections within their community. As we eagerly anticipate the start of our Summer Leadership Institute, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Eastie Farm for graciously welcoming our learners and providing them with an invaluable opportunity to learn, grow, and inspire change.

Learn more about Eastie Farm

Join us for the WPS Summer Leadership Institute and discover a transformative educational experience! Applications are open now. Attend our virtual info sessions to learn more: RSVP by clicking here

Ryan Bani Tahmaseb is a learning coach, curriculum developer, and author. He champions student choice, believes in the extraordinary potential within every learner, and is committed to harnessing the transformative power of meaningful relationships between educators and students.

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