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Massachusetts Ave. Project seeks OK to expand

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Courtesy mass-ave.org
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The Massachusetts Avenue Project is looking to build a bigger permanent structure on the grounds of its urban farm on Buffalo's Lower West Side that would better house its mix of food education, food production and social change advocacy.

The proposed "farmhouse" sought at 389 Massachusetts Avenue, MAP leaders say, would allow them to better house its resources and training programs. Representatives met Tuesday with the Buffalo Planning Board to present their proposal. Though the response was warm, there are some zoning issues to resolve before the project may gain approval.

"We have to get a variance for the rear-yard setback," said Kevin Connors of eco_logic STUDIO, the project architect. "We're five feet from the property line and the zoning requires a larger setback. And also, MAP utilizes a temporary structure for their farm stand in the front. We'd like to build a permanent timber-framed structure for the farm stand."

The Massachusetts Avenue Project's multi-faceted work includes their seasonal market, food distribution at stands elsewhere in the city, produce production, raising chickens and hosting an aquaponics system that grows both plants and fish, specifically tilapia. As MAP executive director Diane Picard pointed out, the tilapia sell out very quickly.

"So far it's just been in those neighborhoods because as soon as we have a batch of fish ready, the neighbors grab them," Picard said. "A lot of the folks who live in our neighborhood are immigrants and refugees and have a lot of fish in their diet."

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Avenue Project is about to once again host a summer program that will both employ and educate at least 30 local young people. Picard says the youths will learn about sustainable food systems, how to prepare foods with greater emphasis on healthy choices and even some leadership and advocacy skills.

"We do some micro enterprise training with them," said Picard. "And also, they are introduced to how to make change through advocating for new policy and working with the powers that be to make changes they want to see in their neighborhood."

Picard and Connors expressed confidence that by their own dealings with the powers that be, in their case the Buffalo Planning Board, the Massachusetts Avenue Project could get approval for their renovation as early as next month.

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