At the end of March at the Fenn School, Gaining Ground hosted an interdisciplinary panel focused on the issue of hunger relief. In a community like ours, hunger might not be obvious, but here are the numbers:
41 million Americans are hungry, and yet 40 percent of food in the US is thrown away during the growing, distribution, and eating process.
One in eight children in eastern Massachusetts is food insecure. Nationally, the rates are one in six.
800,000 Massachusetts residents do not know where their next meal will come from, an increase of 71 percent in the last decade.
Our panel included:
Danielle Nierenberg, activist, author, and journalist who co-founded Food Tank, a nonprofit organization that researches food systems, hunger, and poverty.
Dr. Kathryn Brodowski, preventive medicine physician who specializes in food insecurity and nutrition. She oversees both program and research at the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Doug Wolcik, farm manager at Gaining Ground. Doug has focused on soil health and introduced no-till agricultural practices, a switch that has vastly increased the amount of food the organization is able to donate to hunger relief efforts.
We had a full crowd join us for an evening of discussion about food security, human health and one of the most surprising levers for positive change: the soil beneath our feet.
Read on for the full story by Patricia Brady.
The holidays have come and gone and, after a very successful 2017, where we saw production increase to over 80,000 pounds, we now reflect and set a course for our next season. Winter is the season for planning. How do we achieve these results again or, better yet, how do we continue to grow more food, engage with volunteers, and better steward our land?
As 2017 came to a close, both Francine Royce and Joe Rigali—the vice president and president of the board—approved their final meeting minutes, all-in-favored their last motion, and retired from the board of directors. While these two have been the faces of Gaining Ground to countless volunteers over the years, they have also been the heart and soul of the organization, given the depth of their dedication to the farm and its mission.
We are all excited to welcome Sue Mildrum, senior director of engineering at Constant Contact, as Gaining Ground’s newest board president. Sue’s energy, commitment, and laughter will no doubt lead us to do great things. As a way to introduce Sue to the Gaining Ground community, Executive Director Amy Capofreddi asked Sue a few questions.
It is magical to watch the ebb and flow of farm activities throughout the season and the improvements in production annually. Last year was a big year from beginning to end. In 2017 we donated the most produce in five years and, for the first time, we distributed every month, January through December.
Our farm staff couldn’t have done this work without the help of our 2,600 volunteers who start out in the soggy days of April and work through the hot summer months into chilly October.
In 2017, we distributed our produce in Concord, Bedford, Devons, Maynard, Sudbury, Westford, Lowell, and Boston through partnerships with 13 hunger-relief organizations that distribute through meals, food pantries, and direct free markets.
Each year we build on the previous year’s experience to improve what we grow, how we grow it together with our volunteers, and how we distribute it through our partners to families in need.
Say the words “food pantry,” and most people think of canned vegetables and boxes of pasta. But more and more, a large portion of the food that pantries give out is fresh and local.
So when Open Table’s community dinner and food pantry looked to expand their fresh food offerings, naturally they looked to Gaining Ground, which also serves the Concord-Maynard area.
Gaining Ground presents:
Hunger Relief: From the Ground Up
Thursday, March 29, 2018 • 7 p.m.
The Fenn School—Ward Hall • 516 Monument Street • Concord, MA 01742
Please join us for an evening of discussion about food security, human health and one of the most surprising levers for positive change: the soil beneath our feet. Our panelists for the evening will include: Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder and president of Food Tank; Dr. Kathryn Brodowski, senior director of health and research at the Greater Boston Food Bank; and Doug Wolcik, farm manager at Gaining Ground.
For anyone curious about the true impact of our Read for Seeds program, consider this: Last year, the farm crew planted about two grams of tomato seeds. Those yielded about 850 tomato plants. With sunshine and water in the right combination, plus the necessary TLC from our farm crew and volunteers, those plants produced about 10,000 pounds of tomatoes. This summer crop contributes a significant percentage of our weekly harvest, particularly in the hot summer months—a fact all the more evident when you consider that we harvested 80,000 pounds of produce over the entire season. And it all goes back to the humble seed.
The board and staff would like to express our sincere gratitude to all those supporters who have given generously and shared their time and talents in 2017.
I recently attended a lecture at an unnamed old university in Cambridge. (Thoreau dismissed a degree from that school, writing, “Let every sheep keep its skin.”) The professor’s topic was social justice and food activism. One of the messages was that nonprofit hunger relief missions, like ours at Gaining Ground, are misguided and ultimately ineffective. The corollary message was that real change to our agricultural production system and our economic and food inequality will only come from deep policy and structural changes.
As the growing season starts to wind down, I start to get excited about the winter months and the planning process for next year’s growing season. I can’t help myself. As a farmer, it is so ingrained to always be thinking two days, two weeks, even two months ahead at any moment. But on days like today, I try to focus on the present and the perfect light on a fall day here in Concord.
“Those are carrots. Reindeers eat carrots.” —A 4 year-old talking to her friend at the Head Start market
“The market is an opportunity to see all the colors, all the vegetables. Kids feel important when they shop.” —Teacher at Head Start in Lowell
“We’ve tried new vegetables, and I’m learning how to cook.” and “This market helps a lot, so as a family we ate more nutritious meals. Please come back!” —Parents from Head Start
A shark has to keep moving in order to survive. Without the constant stream of water, they suffocate and die. Likewise, millennials share a common inability to be at rest. We are a group of five Acton-Boxborough high school seniors who choose to farm, instead of occupying our minds with daytime television and outdated sitcoms. We call ourselves SHARK.
Cooper has volunteered with his family at Gaining Ground since he was five years old. Now thirteen, he continues to enjoy doing something that positively impacts the community, while having fun and getting to know the farm and farmers.
For the past two years, the Pottery Club at Middlesex School in Concord has participated in the Empty Bowls program and raised more than $2,000 for Gaining Ground. Empty Bowls is a national program that has been helping to raise money and awareness in the fight to end hunger since 1990.