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.
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.
I am an interdisciplinary artist, engaged in various media: painting, drawing, textiles, sculpture, photography, video and sound installation, with a little performance thrown into the mix. For the past 40 years, I have been lured by the landscape and how human intervention has molded, nurtured, and altered the natural environment.
Although it was just the seed of an idea in March, June’s rollout of produce to our partner organizations is now transitioning into a steady weekly rhythm of harvesting, washing, boxing, weighing and loading. Our partners include:
- Tuesdays: Head Start, House of Hope, Loaves & Fishes, Pine Street Inn, Sudbury Food Pantry
- Thursdays: Bedford Food Pantry, Open Table Concord, Rosie’s Place, Westford Community Housing
- Saturdays: Food for Families, Lowell Transitional Living Center, Open Table Maynard
This year Gaining Ground welcomed two talented, hard-working individuals to our Board: Theresa Cohen and Elisabeth Elden.
On a blustery Sunday in May, Gaining Ground donors and friends gathered to celebrate our completed barn.
This new structure will advance all aspects of our mission and will be the center of life at the farm. Our barn will protect our equipment and supplies — the essentials for growing more food. It will provide produce storage areas, enabling us to harvest vegetables at their peak and to keep them fresher longer so we can distribute more food. It will provide shelter for our ever-growing number of volunteers, allowing them to gather and work in all kinds of weather.
We are a five-person farm crew again this season, with Doug and Kayleigh co-managing the farm, Coleman Wadsworth and Alexis Mantis as our two seasonal apprentices, and Paula Jordan as Head Start mobile market manager.
In the spring, we asked our community to help us raise funds to build a barn. New and long-time donors, foundations, and our Board have responded, and a barn is coming.
A dedicated group of our Staff, Board, and consultants, led by Board member Jeff Young, has been working on design and siting all summer. The barn won’t be the proverbial camel, a horse designed by committee, and has taken shape as a highly functional building to serve the various needs of our farm, farmers, and volunteers. We maintained our commitment to making the barn advance all aspects of our mission, enabling volunteers of all abilities to help us grow as much produce as possible for our recipients.
Another record-breaking harvest gave our farmers a problem that was a pleasure to solve: we had to find another group to receive the bounty from our fields. Rosie’s Place in Boston proved to be ideal. It meets our criteria for distribution—it is located within 20 miles of our farm, has a “choice” pantry and refrigeration, and offers nutritional education. Rosie’s also provides healthy lunches and dinners in their welcoming dining room to 220 poor and homeless women and their children each day.
Don’t let anyone tell you that farmers have the winter off. Last year, we were installing our new irrigation system until the 21st of December. And for the first time, we were able to harvest greens in our new hoop house and distribute storage crops into December.
Some of my favorite days as a farmer come after the new year when we receive the new seed catalogues in the mail. Tucked away by the fireplace watching the snow pile up, we pore over the catalogues while reminiscing about the triumphs and trials of the last season, and dreaming about new varieties to plant this upcoming year.
We are delighted to have the seasoned team of Kayleigh Boyle and Doug Wolcik as our 2015 Farm coordinators. Kayleigh returns with six years of experience developing our farm programs, scheduling our volunteers, and planning our land improvements. Doug brings back two years with Gaining Ground; seven years farming in Massachusetts, California, and South America; and a degree in sustainable agriculture and community food systems from UMass Stockbridge Agriculture School.
Even the old Greeks knew, “It will not always be summer; build barns.” (Hesiod)
Over the years, volunteers, generous supporters, Board members, and staff have provided time and capital to help us “dig deeper” at the Virginia Road farm. Our goals have been to make our land more productive and to take good care of our centuries-old fields. Digging deeper has meant investing in a tractor, a new truck, a high tunnel greenhouse, a deer fence, soil fertility, and a well. Our 2014 harvest of 57,000 pounds of organic produce, twice the 2012 harvest, was a clear sign that our plan is working. And more volunteers than ever — 2,200 —worked alongside our farmers.
In the summer of 2013, we began digging deeper—645 feet to be exact. There, below the bedrock, we found a main source of water to supply our crops with a sufficient amount
of irrigation for each growing season.
Because of this year’s extreme cold combined with 110 inches of record-breaking snow, maple sugaring was late to start and slow-going. For the first time, our open house was cancelled entirely. Spring finally broke through in mid-March with sap flowing irregularly. Kayleigh and Doug collected from 200 buckets in Concord, but the extreme conditions prevented tapping in Carlisle. Miraculously, by April the team had boiled 1,100 gallons of sap into 31 gallons of syrup (textbook 40:1 ratio) while simultaneously planting seeds in the greenhouse.