Lead image
Buying winter vegetables at the farmers market

Residents and leaders in Lynn, MA, are working together to address food insecurity by bolstering the Central Square Farmers Market and associated services to improve the health of pregnant women and young children.

The City of Lynn, an early industrial center about 10 miles north of Boston, is known for its contemporary public art, international population, historic homes, and public parks and open spaces. Relatively old housing stock, however, makes Lynn prone to lead paint hazards. According to 2014 state data, about 88% of the city’s housing stock was built before 1978, when lead paint was first banned under federal law.

Lynn’s history of lead paint use has inadvertently threatened food security for residents — especially children living in lower income areas — which has been exacerbated by the COVID–19 pandemic.

Public health and city leaders are concerned that joblessness – in part due to the pandemic – has caused an increase in home gardening by low income parents who are desperate for fresh low–cost produce. In these circumstances, the soil is likely to be contaminated with lead, and that fresh produce could cause inadvertent exposure to lead and cause harm to children’s brain development. 

Lynn’s mayor, Thomas McGee, designated a Food Security Task Force to centralize the ongoing work throughout the city and identify existing gaps to better address food insecurity during the pandemic. With funding from HBBF’s Bright Cities program and the Mayors Innovation Project, the Food Security Task Force bolstered its Central Square Farmers Market with a focus on improving the health of pregnant women and young children. 

For example, produce costs were subsidized for families that include women with children under 10 – and especially those living in neighborhoods with lead-contaminated soil –  and include community-requested veggies such as “Tongue of Fire” shell beans (often used in Cape Verdean cuisine), assorted hot peppers, callaloo (often used in Caribbean dishes), and East Asian cooking greens, among other produce.  Additionally, the market’s hours of operation increased, and a “farmstand to doorstep” delivery system was implemented.

Lynn’s Farmers Market is near low socioeconomic status neighborhoods, including the Highlands area, which is heavily affected by lead contamination. Seventy percent of the farmer’s market use their SNAP/HIP benefits and qualify for WIC; the increased capabilities of the market will reach vulnerable populations.

“Our city is committed to addressing health and food insecurities among our most vulnerable residents”, said Mayor McGee. “This program focuses on the well-being of our children as we work to provide more equitable access to healthy food choices for children and families in the city of Lynn.”

Looking ahead, Lynn plans to expand its online ordering system and food delivery capabilities, advocate for policies and programming at the state level that impact municipalities with similar socioeconomic status, and continue to create and pilot new initiatives designed to reach the most vulnerable, food-insecure residents of Lynn.


Interested in learning more about this project? Contact Norris Guscott, Chair of Lynn's Food Security Task Force and Director of Lynn's Food and Fitness Alliance at nguscott@lynnma.gov.

Is your City interested in being part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures’ Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.

Related Content