Thanks to the support of Patagonia Boston and a Patagonia Enviro Internship grant, I am grateful to be volunteering with the farm staff at Gaining Ground for four weeks this summer. Everywhere I turn I see signs of ecosystem health.
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. Instead of occupying our minds with daytime television and outdated sitcoms, we, SHARK, a group of five Acton-Boxborough high school seniors, choose to farm.
Market season is upon us. Tomatoes are ripening up and our fall plants are going in the ground this week. Here are a few highlights from our three markets in Lowell and Concord where we directly distribute our produce.
We are off to a great start at our two markets for Head Start families in Lowell. At one site, we serve approximately 23-28 families each week. At our first market we found a caterpillar on the fennel, which was adopted by a classroom, heard many food stories and saw many children happily eating the snap peas and broccoli out of hand. A mom who is Vietnamese American was excited to see the fennel for her pho soup.
After the completion of our five year strategic plan, “Dig Deeper,” the Gaining Ground board tackled the question: “What’s Next?” The 2017 Plan, “Expanding Our Reach and Impact,” presents fitting and exciting challenges for Gaining Ground.
This summer the Gaining Ground board welcomed two new talented members, Jen Flint and Polly Vanasse.
Thanks to improved farming practices and expanded infrastructure, for the first time ever Gaining Ground has donated produce each month this year and started full-season distribution earlier in June than previous years.
We donate to a mix of organizations that provide food pantries and/or meal programs in a variety of locations. This year, our full-time recipient partner organizations include:
- Food Pantry and Meals: Open Table (Concord/Maynard)
- Food Pantry: Bedford Food Pantry, Loaves and Fishes (Ayer), Rosie’s Place (Boston), Sudbury Food Pantry, Westford Housing Community
- Meal Programs: House of Hope (Lowell), Lowell Transitional Living Center, Pine Street Inn (Boston)
- Free Markets: Food for Families (Concord); Head Start (two locations in Lowell)
Everyone always talks about how high school is such a blur—a crazy, fun, busy blur. Upon graduating, we can confirm this. But there were the days where it all slowed down. On many of these days, we were on the farm.
This year, Farm Manager Doug Wolcik, Assistant Farm Manager Hannah Lawson, and Market Manager Paula Jordan are leading a strong, enthusiastic team. We welcome Sage Hess and Alex MacLellan as field crew members, Blair Kimble as a summer field hand and volunteer supporter, and Macayla Cote as market intern.
For more than 20 years, students from local schools have helped fight hunger by participating in our Read for Seeds program. This is an annual read-a-thon that links fundraising, education, and community action. Since its inception, Read for Seeds has raised more than $120,000 and helped buy the seeds to grow almost a half million pounds of organic produce for hunger relief.
For the second year, Gaining Ground will participate in the Three Squares New England Ride for Food, a bike ride that raises funds to eliminate hunger in New England. Last year Gaining Ground fielded a team of 16 riders who raised over $21,000 to support our programs!
Will you join us this year?
I definitely know that I love my job when I am more excited than ever for the growing season to begin, my fifth at Gaining Ground. And by “begin” I mean “continue,” as we have been harvesting and distributing fresh produce throughout the winter months.
At the end of last season, we finally decided to go for it. We took the leap to transition the farm into permanent no-till raised beds. “No-till” is the practice of growing crops without disturbing the soil. We discovered this method after constructing our first hoop house late in the winter of 2013.
After eight seasons with us, Kayleigh Boyle has moved on to Gibbet Hill Farm in Groton. We’re grateful for her many contributions here and wish her well in her next stages of growth.
Gaining Ground has been part of my life since I was 22. It is hard to believe it’s been eight years. I remember so clearly meeting the farm coordinator, Verena Wieloch, for the first time and taking a walk through the snow-covered March fields. She reassured me that it didn’t look like much at the time, but just wait until the fields were in full bloom.
Improving Soil, Increasing Yields
In 2014, Gaining Ground was awarded a $30,000 three-year grant from the Winning Home Foundation to be used for a soil revitalization project. Winning Home is a private, non-profit charitable organization that provides services and support to children and their families who are economically, socially, physically, emotionally, or mentally handicapped or disadvantaged.
For the first time ever, we grew and harvested fresh produce throughout the winter, thanks to improved infrastructure and evolving farming practices. Just as the crops were ready to pick, we discovered that Mill City Grows in Lowell was in short supply of fresh, locally grown vegetables for its nutritional cooking classes.
Did you volunteer at Gaining Ground last year? If so, you were one of more than 3,000 volunteers who contributed to 7,500-plus hours of planting, weeding, watering, and carefully tending the rainbow of produce on Gaining Ground’s farm.