Celebrating Boston at the Charles River Cleanup

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | April 26, 2019 | 3 Minute Read

Few things are more quintessentially Boston than hearing “Dirty Water” played when the Red Sox or Bruins win a home game. But visitors to the Boston area today, or even some younger residents, could be forgiven for not understanding that the song references our own Charles River. Thanks to community efforts like the Charles River Cleanup, today’s Charles River is consistently swimmable and it serves as a scenic centerpiece of the cities and communities that it flows through.

However, it wasn’t always that way. Over 50 years ago, when the song was written, Bostonians easily recognized that “Dirty Water” referred to the murky Charles River. After being damaged by more than a century of sewage, industrial wastewater, and urban runoff, the river was so heavily polluted that it sometimes appeared pink or orange.

The Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup has played a key role in reversing the years of abuse and neglect and helps to distance the river from its previous reputation. Building on a national effort as part of the American Rivers’ National River Cleanup, this community action brings together more than 3,000 local volunteers to pick up litter, remove invasive species, and help to maintain the parks that line the length of the river.

At 80 miles long—and flowing through 23 towns and cities in eastern Massachusetts—the Charles River has the most densely populated watershed in New England. Well known for its boating, as well as parks like Boston’s Esplanade, the Charles River also has a rich ecosystem. The river is home to 20 species of fish and its watershed includes more than 8,000 acres of protected wetlands—which is important in preventing downstream flooding and providing natural habitats to native species.

An important piece of this astonishing transformation has been the community-driven efforts of volunteers each year during the cleanup. You, too, can celebrate Earth Day and play an active role in the care and upkeep of your own communities, while also enjoying the beauty and the wildlife of the Charles River. This year, the 20th Annual Charles River Cleanup will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

Since its inception in 1991, the American Rivers’ National River Cleanup has brought together more than 1.3 million volunteers in thousands of cleanups across the country, helping to remove more than 25 million pounds of litter and debris from America’s rivers. The cleanup’s ongoing success is a testament to the incredible difference that everyday people can make in our own communities if we organize and come together for good.

By engaging with each other, our environments, and our communities, we make vital connections with wide-ranging significance. These efforts are what weave communities together and forge bonds among us that help to bridge common differences and establish real relationships.

Volunteering to help clean areas in our own communities is a great way to get actively involved. It lets neighbors meet each other and work toward a common goal, encourages stewardship of the land we live on, and creates a connection among the politically and socially disparate elements of our local communities.

This connection, stewardship, and neighborly care all contribute to creating and sustaining thriving communities. Community engagement is vital in dissolving boundaries and tearing down walls so we can all work together toward a brighter, happier, and cleaner future.

Whether you’re looking to be more active in your community—or just helping to improve the environment and work towards a cleaner, healthier river—visit the Charles River Cleanup for more information or sign up as a volunteer to start making a difference today.

Volunteer with the Charles River Cleanup team to help keep our river clean.

Join In! Clean up Boston for the Environment

By Ranelle Porter,

By Nicholas Conley | April 22, 2019 | 4 Minute Read

Everyone plays a role in the fate of this vibrant planet we call home and if we’re going to help save the Earth, let’s start by cleaning up our own backyard. Let’s focus on cleaning up Boston.

The world is facing its biggest crisis in history, and today’s global superpowers aren’t doing enough to stop it. Increasingly erratic seasons, melting polar ice caps, animal extinctions, and natural disasters paint a foreboding picture of what’s to come. NASA has made it clear that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by human activity. Now that the U.S. government has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, local solutions are more important than ever.

There are many ways in which we can clean up Boston, and the rest of New England, while also living a greener lifestyle. One of which includes carrying a reusable bag when you’re shopping instead of paying for a plastic bag. You can also try composting, recycling, and buying your food from sustainable farms.

And of course, never doubt the power of a well-organized rally. Since 1970, the U.S. has celebrated Earth Day every April 22nd; this holiday was instituted due to the tireless efforts of over 20 million environmentally-conscious Americans. Working together, they caused a change, which also led to the bipartisan creation of the Environmental Protection Agency that same year.

However, even as celebrations like Earth Day and Arbor Day come and go, our journey toward a cleaner New England shouldn’t stop there. If we want to get serious about saving the environment, we need to keep up our efforts—not just in April, but all year long. According to Boston.com, the Massachusetts government is aiming to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the end of the decade. Locals can help by joining the many environmental groups in Boston, and the rest of New England, that are fighting for a better tomorrow.


If there’s one thing the world needs more of, it’s trees. Everyone knows about Earth Day, but let’s not forget that the last Friday of every April is Arbor Day—a celebration with roots stretching back to the 1800s. Donate to the Arbor Day Foundation, and they’ll plant a tree in the name of your loved one(s).


Become part of the Boston Climate Action Network (BostonCAN). Since the early 2000s, they’ve organized rallies, gone door-to-door, and advocated for the passage of the Gas Leak Ordinance which passed in 2016.


The Charles River is the heart of Massachusetts. Every year, the Charles River Watershed Association hosts an annual Charles River Cleanup, and over the years, these efforts have made a huge difference to the water quality. Join the team and help preserve the magnificence of the Charles.


Freight Farms now offers the “Leafy Green Machine,” a fully assembled hydroponic farming system capable of growing greens, lettuces, and herbs at any location, any time of the year using sustainable practices. Learn more about how Freight Farms can help you start a new farming initiative in your town, school, or campus.

Boston’s Plastic Bag Ban: What You Need To Know

By Ranelle Porter,

By Lorelei Erisis | December 14, 2018 | 3 Minute Read

On December 14th, the City of Boston will begin the implementation of a citywide plastic bag ban on single-use bags. In doing so, Boston will be joining towns and cities across Massachusetts as well as countries around the world in the fight to save our environment from the overwhelming amount of plastic waste.

According to ReuseThisBag.com, “The average bag you pick up at the grocery store, or carry your takeout in, has a lifespan of about 12 minutes.” Multiply that by millions of people around the globe, and it’s easy to see how this disposable habit has become an ecological crisis-point. This torrent of plastic waste—that can take 1,000s of years to degrade—pollutes waterways, clogs sewers, disrupts entire ecosystems, and threatens the lives and basic health of many species of fish, birds, and other wildlife.

In fact, so much of this plastic has found its way into our oceans that there’s a number of floating “plastic patches” covering vast amounts of territory. The most famous being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Though difficult to measure accurately, some estimates have placed this patch as being the size of Russia.

More locally, it’s easy to see how single-use plastic bags mar the beauty of our city. They fly through our streets, clog our gutters, fill up abandoned lots, and hang from our trees. Through this plastic bag ban, the City of Boston hopes to curb trash on our streets, protect the marine environment and our waterways; and do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste.

Enforcement of the ban will roll out in three major stages. First, only the largest establishments of 20,000 square feet or more will be affected. Establishments of 10,000 square feet will need to follow the new rules by April. By next summer, all stores in the city will need to be up to speed with the new law.

But how will this affect you? Remember to bring reusable bags when you’re out shopping or running errands. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to pay a fee of 5 cents per bag for a thicker, compostable plastic bag or a paper bag made of recycled materials. If you’ve done any shopping or gotten takeout in Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, Somerville, or any number of other surrounding towns, you may already be used to similar measures.

The plastic bag ban in Boston will relieve pressure on our landfills and ease our waste management services, while also beautifying our city. And in joining our efforts to those of quite successful plastic bag bans already in place around the globe, we can begin to mitigate many of the harmful impacts to our environment and to the wildlife we share the planet with.

We can all contribute to making a real difference in the state of our environmental health. And here in Boston, we have often been trailblazers—people who are not afraid to take on a challenge when we believe we can do good in the world. Through our support of this plastic bag ban, we can set an example, so that others may join us for good.

Join the City of Boston as we step up the fight against plastic pollution with the new plastic bag ban.

‘Keep Massachusetts Beautiful’ by Cleaning up Our Community

By Kisha Tapangan,

By Michael Givens | May 11, 2018 | 2 Minute Read

With 11 chapters across Massachusetts, from Cape Cod to Springfield, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful (KMB) has spent the last four years prioritizing recycling, litter cleanup, and beautification efforts in Bay State communities. They’re calling on all Massachusetts residents and visitors to do their part and keep the commonwealth clean.

“At the time, in 2014, there was no organization that was focused on cleaning up and preventing litter in Massachusetts,” said Neil Rhein, founder and executive director of KMB. “I saw the great success and impact our local affiliate, Keep Mansfield Beautiful, had in Mansfield and decided that this model could succeed in towns and cities across Massachusetts.”

KMB’s three areas of impact are beautification and community greening, waste reduction and recycling, as well as litter prevention and cleanup. The organization’s staff and member chapters explore local communities to pick up litter, recycle waste, and implement small projects that clean up local public spaces such as parks, monuments, traffic-heavy roads, and wooded areas. Rhein said he saw a distinct need in the Bay State to reduce high levels of litter in public spaces while also ensuring Massachusetts’ beauty remained intact for families moving into the state as well as visitors.

“We need to change the culture here in Massachusetts that simply tolerates the vast amounts of litter and debris that can be seen along virtually every highway and roadside,” he continued. “Tourism is a big part of our economy in Massachusetts, and current visitors cannot be impressed by the trash they are seeing. A cleaner, greener, litter-free Massachusetts is good for our residents, businesses, and our economy.”

Along with community projects to clean up areas of concern in Massachusetts, KMB and its local chapters also educate the public on the importance of recycling, picking up litter, and creating green spaces. As part of this community outreach and education, Marsha Goldstein—chapter president of Keep North Attleborough Beautiful (KNAB)—recently spent a full week educating kindergartners at five local schools about the importance of recycling. Goldstein taught the children about the importance of using cloth bags over plastic bags. She also taught the students about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—the largest accumulation of plastic in the world that floats in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. She discussed the impact of littering on land and sea animals like turtles and fish.

When it comes to beautification projects, volunteering not only provides a service to our communities, it also provides an opportunity to build and sustain relationships. Some community members decided to volunteer to enjoy the great outdoors and lend a helping hand for the beautification of their state. By doing so, they were also able to spend time with neighbors. Rhein said that the signature statewide event, the Great Massachusetts Cleanup, is often successful because of the dedicated volunteers who show up for events every year.

A local cleanup effort, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, hopes to encourage community members to do their part.

“Our flagship program…attracted nearly 7,000 volunteers in 84 communities in 2017,” Rhein said. “These volunteers removed more than 136 tons of trash. The economic value of these volunteer hours exceeded $530,000.”

KMB’s board chair, Jane Peterson Ellis, started volunteering with her local chapter about 11 years ago and has been thoroughly engaged since. Her hope for the years to come is that KMB will grow across Massachusetts.

“I want every activist in Massachusetts working on clean and green initiatives to be aware of the resources and support [that] KMB can provide,” she said. “Eventually, I want to see a map showing KMB-supported organizations blanketing the state. That impact will create a cleaner, more beautiful, and healthier present and future for Massachusetts residents.”


Volunteer with a local chapter or with the statewide organization Keep Massachusetts Beautiful to do your part in creating a green future for the next generation.

Bostonians Are Eating Healthy with Help from the Urban Farming Institute

By Kisha Tapangan,

By Michael Givens | May 2, 2018 | 2 Minute Read

The Urban Farming Institute of Boston

Nestled in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, The Urban Farming Institute of Boston (UFI) has spent the last six years creating a thriving and robust local farming economy. They’re producing healthy vegetables for Bostonians while also providing rewarding jobs for the city’s residents. Supporting the work of this enterprising business goes a long way in providing healthy, locally-sourced produce to Boston’s communities.

“[UFI] was created in 2012 by a small group of community residents with a desire and vision to build a healthier and more locally-based food system through public education and policy, urban farming training, land access, and access to fresh produce,” said Linda Palmer, UFI’s administrator.

From parsley, dill, and cilantro to string beans, peas, peppers, and so much more, UFI recruits Boston residents interested in urban farming, trains them, and supports their efforts to grow vegetables—which can then be sold and distributed throughout Boston. And there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Approximately 600 volunteers participate in the UFI’s farming work each year where they help with weeding, composting, planting, and watering. If you’re looking for something even more involved, you can sign up for an intensive nine- or twenty-week class or a summer program to learn the basics of urban farming.

“The most rewarding part of urban farming is having the opportunity to meet so many people and be able to share . . . the fruits of our labor,” said Tristram Keefe, a farm enterprise manager on staff with the UFI. “Whether it is chatting with our regular customers at the farmers market, or giving away produce to the neighbors living around our farm sites . . . the most rewarding part is being able to share with people something that you grew and nurtured from a tiny seed. Another rewarding aspect is being able to watch the transformation of an empty piece of land to a lush and productive urban farm during the course of the season and watching how that process brings people together.”

Though its primary focus is to provide healthy produce in the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, the UFI’s board and staff are devoted to inclusion and building lasting relationships throughout all of Boston’s communities. “The organization has always been diverse, intentionally multi-racial, and welcoming to those born here in Boston, or elsewhere,” said Klare Shaw, president of UFI’s board. “We want to be the hub of urban agriculture in ways that promote ownership, jobs, inclusion, health, and caring in neighborhoods that have often been marginalized.”

“Our graduates also have broad community impact,” she continued. “There are over 100 of them now working in other nonprofits and businesses, the vast majority are people of color. The grads are in our ‘farm family’ for life; they may either work in the green/food industry at say a Commonwealth Kitchen or supplement their family’s food by growing healthy crops, by keeping bees, or even by growing flowers.”

With an unofficial slogan of, “We don’t just grow food, we grow people,” UFI is firmly rooted in the principle of seeing urban agriculture leaders grow and develop, “because of the affirming nature of working in the earth and planting things that give back,” Shaw said.

Volunteer at a local farm in Boston to support the mission of the Urban Farming Institute.