Turf Wars: Saving City Soil

Bruce Fulford, left, founded City Soil and has spent 30 years building a regional composting infrastructure. (City Soil)

Bruce Fulford, left, founded City Soil and has spent 30 years building a regional composting infrastructure. (City Soil)

Supporters rally to keep community-based composting business part of local food network

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News staff

MATTAPAN, Mass. — With an eviction deadline looming, City Soil and Greenhouse LLC supporters rallied to keep the community-based composting business on American Legion Highway intact. Last week, City Soil supporters began a Twitter and Internet campaign to seek a reversal of the eviction. It worked, and a celebration was held May 18.

City Soil’s founder, Bruce Fulford, is well known in conservation and land-management stewardship circles. A member of the Ecological Landscaping Association, the US Composting Council and a chair of the Massachusetts Audubon Society Boston Nature Center, he has worked for 30 years building a regional composting infrastructure among local governments, farmers, community gardens, food processors, haulers and universities in Greater Boston. His 35-member supporter list is a who’s who of conservation agencies and the burgeoning Boston urban agricultural community.

The #SaveCitySoil! campaign focused on the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), governing authority over the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which owns the property at 415 American Legion Highway. A letter from Veronica Eady, of the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), to EEA Secretary Richard Sullivan, said the loss of City Soil would impact the growing urban agricultural community.

Five urban agricultural organizations signed on in addition to CLF — among them Higher Ground Farm, a 55,000-square-foot garden atop the Boston Design Center. Higher Ground Farm buys soil from City Soil and uses City Soil’s composting service. It sees City Soil as an important link in the urban food supply chain.

Others who have expressed support for City Soil include The Food Project, City Fresh Food, Boston Natural Area Network and Victory Programs ReVision Urban Farm.

A meeting with Sullivan on May 14 to resolve the problem left everyone hopeful that the issue could be worked out, according to EEA spokeswoman Krista Selmi. However, Zoo New England, not DCR, issued the eviction notice, she said, so the secretary was unable to lift it. On May 16, the day before the eviction notice was to be executed, all parties reached an agreement.

At issue was the part of the zoo’s overflow parking lot that DCR gave exclusive use to Landscape Express, a private landscape material supplier, but also was leased to City Soil by Zoo New England. The area in question is a key access point to American Legion Highway, and was the planned site of City Soil’s Urban Agriculture Demonstration project, according to Fulford.

DCR controls the property. However, it has allowed the zoo use of the overflow parking area and the ability to lease it as needed for decades. Last fall, DCR issued a request for proposals to clean up the balance of the 20-acre property and professionally manage DCR’s existing composting facility.

But according to City Soil, which also bid for the project, the zoo overflow parking lot wasn’t included in the DCR request for proposals.

City Soil’s lease, in place since May 2013, gave it the right to run a community-based compost facility, with expansion to include a “bio-energy farm” on the zoo overflow parking lot. In December 2013, City Soil acquired use of additional property under its lease with the zoo.

In March, City Soil and partner Suffolk County Conservation District won a competitive grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to create an Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project in the overflow parking lot. City Soil planned to build greenhouses powered by the energy generated from composting food scrap, the zoo’s manure and organic landscaping materials from city parks.

The demonstration project is supported by the Boston Public Schools, which, in an October 2013 letter to MDAR, said the project would “educate the school system’s 58,000 students about food production, waste reduction, decomposition and environmental management.”

According to Fulford, he was asked to meet with Zoo New England management in April. That’s when he found out that DCR gave the exclusive use of the tract to Landscape Express.

In a phone interview May 16, hours before an agreement was officially reached, DCR spokesman Bill Hickey noted that DCR has no contractual relationship with City Soil, saying, “We want to see how best we can work out the disputed area. We’re willing to work with them.”