Every day, long before the sun is up, truckloads of produce from around the country arrive in Massachusetts at the Chelsea Market. Within hours, fruits and vegetables are sorted and loaded back onto trucks that deliver to grocery stores, restaurants, wholesalers, and food service customers across the region. If you live in New England, when you sit down for dinner tonight, chances are your salad will have moved through this distribution system.
This wholesale produce terminal, straddling the municipal boundaries of Chelsea and Everett, is a crucial component of the regional food system, supplying fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 8 million people in Boston, New England, and parts of Canada. The New England Produce Center, the largest privately owned produce market in the country, along with the Boston Terminal Market, a smaller, adjacent produce market, make up the Chelsea Market.
The facility was built in 1968 on low-lying land that in the early 1900s was wetlands and a portion of the Island End River, since filled in. So, as climate change alters the existing borders between land and sea, this vital regional distribution hub is also at risk. By today’s measurements, it is susceptible to flooding; recent modeling released by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows that 5 feet of sea-level rise could inundate the Chelsea Market with up to 4 feet of water. According to flood projections, this could be possible within this century. Beacham Street is a deteriorating roadway that serves as the main access point for the Chelsea Market, and any amount of flooding here could cut off truck access and impede business and employment.
Ironically, Everett and Chelsea, the market’s host cities, have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Vast quantities of produce enter and exit through these cities’ borders every day, yet little of it stays. Both cities have significantly elevated rates of diet-related illness — including hypertension and diabetes — and roughly one-third of residents are obese, as compared to 22 percent statewide. They have four full-service grocery stores between them, serving a combined population of 80,000 people, with both of Everett’s grocery stores located on the periphery of the city and feasibly accessed only by car or bus. Advocates suggest that these are too few and too difficult to get to. Community groups such as Everett Community Growers and Healthy Chelsea are increasing awareness and investment in food access issues by engaging residents in urban farming, community gardening, and hunger-relief efforts.
Increasingly tenuous regional food security and persistent community health issues in Everett and Chelsea call for deeper involvement by city and state governments and collaboration with community food advocacy groups and businesses. The interdis-ciplinary nature of food systems requires working across sectors, those conventionally boundaried. Solutions need to be advanced by whole communities.
Recent efforts suggest the political will is there to make change happen. Massachusetts and neighboring states have defined visions in recent years for building stronger food systems. New funding, through the Massachusetts Food Trust, will soon be available to improve food environments in underserved areas; it is now up to state leaders to dedicate this funding. The moment is right for forging new partnerships, working across bound-aries and sectors to ensure a healthy food supply for all. ■