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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
How fortunate we are that Liza Connolly, chef and co-founder of Kids Cooking Green, has volunteered to pick up and help prepare our produce weekly during this fall’s pilot partnership program with Waltham Boys and Girls Club (WBGC). With a mission to inspire youth to reach their full potential, WBGC offers a welcoming space weekdays and holidays for athletics, creativity, social recreation, and community service. These activities require energy fueled by good food, yet for many of its members, hunger and nutrition are a daily challenge.
Fresh, locally grown cucumbers, kale, spinach, apples, berries, and more… That’s breakfast for many homeless and low-income men and women living in the Lowell area! How? These delicious vegetables are turned into free healthy breakfast smoothies thanks to a new partnership with Gaining Ground and other produce providers.
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
As a long-time Board member and enthusiastic supporter of the Food for families program, I spend many Saturday mornings harvesting and distributing produce and flowers to Concord and Carlisle residents. Through the years, I have received so much joy from this community of recipients. Food naturally generates conversations and memories and has opened the door to my friendship with Concord resident Ingeborg Traulsen.