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West

Moving Concord toward food independence

Students study potential in local acres

Richard Cheek for The Boston Globe/File 2001

The town’s agricultural heritage, evidenced in this view of Hutchins Farm, makes Concord well suited to developing land to reduce its dependence on imported food, say members of the Concord Community Food Report Project.

Concord is at the center of a study by a group of graduate students from the Conway School of Landscape Design to assess the town’s readiness to provide its own food.

Given the town’s deep agricultural heritage, said Brooke Redmond of the Concord Community Food Report Project, Concord is well suited to developing its arable land to reduce its dependence on food from far-flung places such as Asia and Australia.

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Christina Gibson, a student at the Western Massachusetts school, said future oil availability is driving the need for self-sufficiency, as well as the threat of natural disasters that could cripple the food distribution system.

The Concord Community Food Report Project is a three-month-old endeavor started to “move the needle’’ on food self-sufficiency, Redmond said at a meeting earlier this month.

“We have an embarrassment of riches in Concord,’’ said Redmond. “We want to optimize what we can produce, reinvent cooking from scratch in our homes, and have more local food distribution outlets such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.’’

She said the Northeast Correctional Center, located on 300 acres of farmland in Concord, has a canning facility that is little used.

“With this report we want to build both supply and demand,’’ said Redmond. She said No. 9 brand salsas and other foods are manufactured in town. “Concord could be a model community.’’

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The meeting room at the Harvey Wheeler Community Center was filled with farmers, cooks, and shop owners, as well as interested residents. They divided up into four focus groups to tease out ideas about where plots of land are, how it could be maximized, backyard gardening, how locally grown food could be distributed throughout town, and how families could be educated in cooking and preserving food.

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for March 8 at the Willard School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The normal $6,500 fee that Conway charges for this type of research was donated by a woman from Concord.

Gibson and Jamie Potter from Conway said the hope for the study was to leverage the data and make a more efficient system in town, plus contribute to the regional food supply.

Gibson stressed the need for food resilience, meaning how well the town could weather the loss of imported food.

“It’s about connections,’’ she said as the participants broke into small groups to talk gardening, canning, farmers markets, and other ways of eating local.

Betsy Levinson can be reached at betsy.levinson@gmail.com.

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