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?
Articles tagged with: Farm Update
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.
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.
At the beginning of the summer, Gretchen Nelson, head of the board’s Recipient Committee, and I scheduled visits to the amazing organizations that distribute our produce. With growing season in full swing, seeing our vegetables filling tables, shelves, and bags was clearly going to be powerful. I had been told that our produce is often the only fresh food many of these organizations receive on a weekly basis, but seeing it first-hand solidified why we do what we do at Gaining Ground.
This fall, we welcome two new youth board members: Matt and Hannah.
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.
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)
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.
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.