JT Scott is a long-time affiliate owner and current owner of CrossFit Somerville in Somerville, MA. After dropping in recently for a workout, he was kind enough to not only tour me around his box and their various agriculture projects, but also agreed to let me interview him because this project needs to be shared.
In short, CrossFit Somerville’s Urban Agriculture Project consists of honeybees (who live in hives on the roof of the box), organic vegetable gardens and a chicken coop. The project is run by his members who volunteer their time and in exchange get a share of what they produce. It’s a beautiful community effort to eat well, produce locally, and make use of every available space in a densely populated city.
What is your mission or purpose as a box owner?
My vision is to change the world; my mission is to do this by increasing my members’ agency – their ability to enact change in the world. I feel strongly that change happens one interaction at a time, and I want to foster a strength in my members that enables them to go out and make active changes in our neighborhood.
What is your favorite thing about running a CrossFit box?
Besides generating such positive change in my members’ lives, [my favorite thing] is that I get to set the example of how I want businesses to operate and how I want people to treat each other.
When did you start your urban ag project?
Our Urban Ag project started in 2013 with a small rooftop garden in planters made from milk crates. We grew a bunch of peppers and ended up making some hot sauce with them at the end of the season.
How have your members responded to it?
The response from our members was incredibly enthusiastic, and led to a big expansion of the project in 2014 spearheaded by a group of member volunteers. In 2014 they built more planters for the roof, constructed raised garden beds for more growing space on the ground level around the sides of the box, and even designed and built a chicken coop that sits just outside our emergency exit in the back of the building. We also built a beehive and installed our first colony in 2014.
How does the volunteer structure work? What do volunteers get for their time?
Our dedicated volunteer team is about 20 members during the season, but plenty of people bring in scraps for the chickens or just go out to say hi and play with them. Volunteers sign up for a rotation that has them on duty one week each month to take care of the chickens and gardens – the bees mostly take care of themselves. One of our earliest members has taken the lead on organizing the teams and providing checklists for the weekly and daily tasks, and the volunteer members generally just take care of things during the week after their daily WODs. It’s a very self-driven process.
Each week the volunteer crew gets to divvy up any vegetables that were ready to harvest – and we get to do several plantings throughout the growing season so there’s frequently new stuff coming in. They also get all the fresh eggs that were laid that week. At the end of the year, we harvest the honey from the hive and folks get as much as they want; we got 3 gallons out of the hive this past season.
Do you think it inspires better nutrition practices in your members?
I like the Urban Ag effort because it shows that we can take care of our own food production. Rather than buying organic cage-free eggs from Whole Foods, we can just feed the chickens and know exactly what’s in those eggs. Getting fresh and pesticide free organic veggies, eggs, and honey is absolutely a great foundation for nutrition. Most importantly, they take away the knowledge of how to set up gardens and eggs in their own apartments and backyards.
Does it help create a stronger community within your members?
It’s been great to see our members come together to work on the project and get to enjoy the results of their work. Even the members who aren’t direct volunteers take a lot of pride in the project and it’s pretty common for our folks to take a “chicken selfie” instead of the standard “handstand selfie”.