The Smith Baker Center “Before” Photographs

Almost a year ago, the Lowell, MA, city council approved the sale of the iconic, but unused Smith Baker Center, a former church at the corner of Merrimack Street and Cardinal O’Connell Parkway, to the Coalition for a Better Acre. The CBA's plan is a little more complicated than simply purchasing it, so please check the article at the link here for the whole scoop. The former church has been vacant for a number of years, and the Coalition had come forward last year with a plan to change that. I had photographed inside the Smith Baker several years ago when I did a portrait of Suzzanne Cromwell, but the space itself was just a prop for that shoot. So I thought I would ask the Coalition for permission and access to do some “before” shots, hopeful that there would someday be an opportunity for some “after” ones. If you haven’t had a chance to see the interior, I hope this will give you a hint of it’s potential.

A special thank you to the CBA, and especially to Julia Gavin for a guided tour of the building.

There is more information about the CBA's plan and the building here.


Marc’s Miracles

About a year ago I had asked Marc Clermont to be a subject for my artist portrait series. He is the Facilities Manager at Western Avenue Studios, in Lowell, MA, and the founder and  President of the Board of Directors of The Miracle Providers NorthEast, a non-profit organization that helps raise money for children and their families impacted by HIV/AIDS. Among their many fund-raising events, they regularly produce musical extravaganzas at the Onyx Room, also at Western Avenue.

I really didn’t realize what kind of preparation was involved for Marc to get into character, which was of course how I wanted to photograph him. I thought, a little mascara, a wig and a dress… what’s the problem? Well a couple of weeks ago Marc asked if I could show up at the Onyx Room for the next Miracle Provider’s show, at which time he could sit for my photographs before the show. I think it took Marc about an hour and a half to get ready. It was worth the wait! I hope you enjoy my take.

Please go to the Miracle Provider’s web page, or Facebook page to see what incredible work they do! They also have shots on the Facebook page from that, and other shows, expertly done by other photographers.


A Growing Business

Two of the nicest people you could ever meet also happen to be two of the smartest and innovative entrepreneurs in the area. Lydia and Francey are the force behind Mill City Grows, the Lowell, Massachusetts-based enterprise that is bringing community gardening and urban food production to the city and surrounding area. Their mission: “Mill City Grows fosters food justice by improving physical health, economic independence and environmental sustainability in Lowell through increased access to land, locally-grown food and education.” Please visit their web site:

Back to Francey and Lydia though, both of whom, along with their husbands, are thoroughly invested in the community and its success. I have had the opportunity to follow them around to a few of their projects for the Merrimack Valley Magazine and the Local Farming photo essay that I did last year. Yesterday afternoon they dropped by my studio to pose for some shots at The Big Doors. Please do visit their web site to see what’s growing!

Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson of Mill City Grows

Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson of Mill City Grows


Joe Hungler Meets the Big Doors

Joe Hungler and I recently discovered that we have a connection that neither of us were aware of. Joe grew up in Manchester, NH, and was a close friend of my nephew when they were both in grammar school. It’s the kind of thing that we seem to only discover from social media when there are friends or followers in common.

Joe is one of the many Lowellians who is committed to making life better for those with less. He is currently the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell and on the board of directors of the Cultural Organization of Lowell. Originally from Manchester, having grown up in the Boys & Girls club there, where he worked for 10 years on the Program staff, Joe came to Lowell by way of clubs in Nashua, Waltham and Worcester. Get him started on talking about his work and you will soon see why his enthusiasm leads to his success. 

Please visit their web site. What they offer kids and the cost will probably surprise you! From their web site: “The membership fee for the school year is $26. No child is turned away due to inability to pay – scholarships are offered to children who could not otherwise afford membership.“

Joe Hungler - Executive Director at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell

Joe Hungler - Executive Director at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell


Look Around and See the Good

I met Geoff Foster at Lowell’s United Teen Equity Center (UTEC) in 2012 while documenting the important work that the dedicated personal at UTEC does. Geoff, a youth organizer, is UTEC’s Associate Director of Political Action and is well known in the community for championing the Vote 17 initiative, and state-wide for overseeing the Teens Leading the Way coalition, among other things.

What is striking about Geoff is his unrestrained enthusiasm for what he does. To see him in action with a group of young people is truly inspiring. So as I have invited different personalities for the area to allow me photograph them, several of them insisted that I should extend the invitation to Geoff as well. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule yesterday afternoon to come by. It was incredibly interesting and uplifting to talk with him and experience his contagious enthusiasm, but I got to photograph him too!

Geoff Foster

Geoff Foster

Geoff Foster, United Teen Equality Center, Lowell, Massachusetts

Geoff Foster, United Teen Equality Center, Lowell, Massachusetts

Some of Us Are From Here. Some From Far Away.

I met Derek and Lydia a little over a year ago. I recall the event we all attended, but I don't recall exactly how he and I started to talk about UTEC (United Teen Equality Center), where he was the Director of Workforce Development, and an idea that I had for a photography and film project. The conversation began and the idea grew into a project that lasted throughout the summer. I had an amazing experience meeting and photographing the young people and staff at UTEC, the culmination of which coincided with the Grand Opening of the renovated youth center. I was extremely privileged to have my work shown at the opening.

So what does all that have to do with Derek? Beginning with our brief conversation, the idea began to take hold in each of our minds. Pursuing a personal project over several months can be quite a commitment and at times can be really discouraging. Some days it seems pointless, or the goal seems so far off that giving up would be so easy. An advocate within an organization in which you are trying to work is essential. Derek was the ideal advocate. I never felt like an outsider or awkward to be there. Derek paved the way, made the introductions and prodded and encouraged me to follow-through, to show up and to create.

Now Derek has moved on to become the Lowell Site Director of The International Institute of New England, and most recently, he has announced his candidacy for Lowell City Council. I know that he will bring the same passion and commitment that he has brought to his previous endeavors. 

This installment of the Big Door series and the Basic black and white series features Derek, but his partner Lydia dropped in for the shoot as well. Lydia is an amazing person in her own right, so I will be featuring her in front of the big green doors very soon. Stay tuned! 

People have asked me what this project is all about. It's not terribly profound. I have been looking for local people who are interesting to know, and to see, and to tell a little about them here on this blog, in words and pictures. Mostly pictures. I enjoy the process and realizing results that satisfy me, and I still have a long list of people that I want to invite as this thing proceeds.

Derek Mitchell

Derek Mitchell


United Teen Equality Center - Chipping Away

After more that 6 months, I am thrilled to finally unveil my personal project, United Teen Equality Center - Chipping Away. Since May of this year, I have had the privilege to work with Lowell, Massachusetts' United Teen Equality Center to create portraits of the young people and to document the invaluable work that is done there, in the form of a photographic body of work and a short film.

The work will be on display beginning with the center's Grand Opening event, and will remain on display in the common areas of the new building into the future.

The People Inside the Non-Profit World

Well one of them anyway...

Some pics from a recent shoot at a local non-profit. This young woman is someone who the camera just cannot get enough of. You know it's happening on a shoot after just a few frames. You set up the scene, start making pictures, and the magic just takes over. Someday, I hope we can shoot again!



Sustainable Farming in the Merrimack Valley - Matthew Himmel Interview

In today's blog, I have the distinct pleasure of presenting an interview with Matthew Himmel, the Marketing Manager of World PEAS Cooperative at the New Entry Sustainable Farm Project, here in the Merrimack Valley. The New Entry Sustainable Farm Project's ( mission is to assist people with limited resources who have an interest in small-scale commercial agriculture, to begin farming in Massachusetts. World PEAS ("People Enhancing Agricultural Sustainability") Marketing Cooperative primarily sells directly to consumers through a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), with additional sales to institutional food services/restaurants, and at farmers’ markets (in partnership with the United Teen Equality Center).

Complicated, I know! That is also why I decided to interview Matthew and get the real scoop, right from the source. So let's get started!

Matthew Himmel Interview
Matthew Himmel

* You studied biology and environmental studies at Hamilton College. Are you originally from that area of New York, and did you have interests in farming and local agriculture before going to college?

No, I am actually from around here; I grew up in Lexington.  When I was growing up we had a vegetable garden, compost pile and great backyard, so I spent a bit of time outdoors, tinkering in the garden. By the time I graduated from High School I was already very interested in agriculture, and took a year off to travel and work on farms in Central America and Europe.  I became confident that I wanted to work in agriculture, but not exactly sure how.  I studied biology and geology at Hamilton, studied Permaculture in the summers, worked on research at Cornell in Crop and Soil Sciences and Horticulture, and ultimately found a niche that I love, helping farmers access markets and resources they need to succeed.  After trying a few different things out, I have concluded that market-base strategies are essential to creating the healthy, equitable, and sustainable food systems we all want.

* Did you or your family have a background in farming when you were growing up?

My mother emigrated from a small town in Romania, where everyone was subsistence farmers.  While I had a very different upbringing, this heritage has influenced me.  I still love hearing the stories from my grandmother about how they made sauerkraut to save for the winter, started seedlings in the warmth of a composting manure pile and so forth.

My dad is from New Jersey.  He’s definitely had an influence on me too, but less directly in farming.  I think I get my systems thinking from him.  He uses Excel spreadsheets to do just about everything.  Learning Excel from him, has been enormously helpful coordinating farmers for World PEAS.

* What are the goals of World PEAS, NESFP and of the Lowell CSA, and how do they work together?

NESFP is strengthening our local food system by training new farmers (either new to farming or new to the U.S.) and helping them access the resources they need to successfully establish farm businesses.  Helping farmers access markets is critical, since the financial viability of farms is essential to their continued existence.  While we encourage farmers to have diverse marketing venues, including farmers’ markets, restaurant accounts, etc., we also coordinate cooperative marketing through the World PEAS Cooperative.  

World PEAS helps small farmers connect with local consumers, by coordinating the production of farmers, each of whom may only be growing six crops, to offer customers a diverse bounty of over 70 local fruits and vegetables.  The cooperative also packs and delivers produce from all of the cooperative farmers, which is much more efficient than each farmer spending time and fuel making their own deliveries.  Consumers also benefit, because they are able to have just-picked freshness, and support small farmers in their community, without having to drive out to each of the farms, and with the convenience of online payment, and a free weekly newsletter with recipes.

* Is the main objective of NESFP to train farmers, or is it to provide resources for them to get started? Or are some of the farmers very experienced?

New Entry works with farmers with varying levels of experience and resource needs.  Many of the immigrant and refugee farmers we work with have decades of experience farming in their homeland, but are less familiar with the local climate and markets, and may also need help accessing land and other key resources.  Others come to the program with very little or no farming experience.  

We have recently seen a rise in the number of American-born applicants looking to get into farming for the first time.  They may need more help with production skills and land access, but are often more familiar with trends in the local market, through their observations at farmers’ markets, supermarkets, etc.  

We also work with farmers who have some experience farming in the U.S.  Some a single Field Training to learn about a single production topic, such as organic pest management, others may wish to re-vise and formalize their business plan through our Farm Business Planning Course.  Others come to New Entry for our Farmland Matching Service, so they can find available land to farm.

* How many share holders did the CSA have this past summer, and how did it compare to previous years?

Last year, the World PEAS Community Supported Agriculture (aka CSA or farm share) program, which is our largest market, provided weekly boxes of fresh produce to 425 households throughout the greater Lowell and Boston areas.

The CSA and World PEAS in general have been growing rapidly over the past couple of years.  When I started in 2008 we had 100 shares.  We’ve been adding about 100 every year since, as well as additional markets.

* Is the CSA self-sustaining? Do the farmers all make a profit?

As of 2010, the World PEAS Cooperative achieved financial solvency.  We are really proud of this achievement, and feel that our success demonstrates the efficacy of this model to other farmer groups and organizations.

We cover our costs by charging a commission on sales, a little over 20%.  This still leaves farmers with much higher prices than they would receive through most other markets, because it is a pretty direct and efficient value chain.  Unlike traditional channels, produce doesn’t change hands several times, and there are no expensive warehouses and supermarkets to maintain and power.  Farmers can still get better prices selling directly to customers at Farmers’ Markets, and many do.  But many of the farmers in the program have other jobs, don’t speak English very efficiently, or have volume that are too small to justify going to a market on their own.  World PEAS provides another market.

Whether farmers’ make a profit is dependent on how well they manage their farm.  There are a lot of expenses, including seeds, land rental, water, fertilizers, organic pesticides, tractor rental, gas, etc.  Farmers need to plan their production to make the most efficient use of these resources, and make sure they can sell what they grow.  Often times farmers in the program break even their first season, and increase their profits in subsequent years.

* Is the land generally lent or leased, and to NESFP or to the individual farmers?

New Entry manages a three incubator farm sites in Dracut where farmers can rent land and equipment.  We have various arrangements in each case.  Our Farmland Matching Service typically helps arrange direct leases with farmers.

* Are there any long-range plans that any of the various organizations that you work with have in the works?

Having achieved many of the goals we set several years ago, we are in the midst of another round of strategic planning.  Having built up a suite of successful programs New Entry is well poised to expand in a variety of directions.  It will be exciting to see how things develop.




Registration for the World PEAS CSA is now open.  For more information, visit

If you have questions about World PEAS or for further information about the Training Program, please call the office at 978-654-6745.

Don't Throw That Away!

In July, I visited an interesting non-profit in Boxford for a magazine shoot. I was told, when I arrived later than I had planned, that people in Boxford are either from Boxford, or are lost. I was definitely the latter. But that is not unusual.

My destination was the Community Giving Tree in Boxford, Massachusetts, which "recycles gently used children’s clothing and baby equipment and provides other necessities such as school supplies and toiletries to low income families in Essex County, Massachusetts."  I think the key word here is "gently", because in just looking around, if the items had not been in their unpackaged state, most  would have passed for new. All of which makes this a tremendous resource for those in need of a little assistance.



Community Giving Tree

If you'd like to learn more, and even see a PDF of the Merrimack Valley Magazine article for which i shot these images on their web site, take a look: