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.
Joe first volunteered in the fields sometime in 2005 when his wife, Tracy Winn, served on the board. One of his earliest projects was helping Mark Waltermire, GG’s first farmer, build the first greenhouse. “Neither Mark nor I were especially good at this, and we ended up putting the fan in backwards,” Joe says with humility. Fortunately things only got better from there: After joining the board in 2006 and taking on the role of president in 2012, Joe raised funds for the construction of the pavilion, helped build the sugar house, and provided leadership for the building of the barn, among many other contributions.
Joe considers the barn as “a permanent home for Gaining Ground,” which allows us to do more of what we do best. It supports the farm crew in efforts to make the most of season extension and increase the food we can grow, while deepening our engagement with volunteers. “I think we’ve done all this and kept the original feel of a small farm with a real experience for volunteers,” he says.
Through these developments, Joe says it has been tremendously satisfying to work along side inspiring people. His compass throughout, he says, was Francine: “My job was to entertain ideas and make sure we stayed on mission. Francine had an unerring sense of what was right for Gaining Ground, and I relied on her for that. She was really a tremendous touchstone about what was right for the organization,” he says.
For her part, Francine learned about Gaining Ground through Open Table, where she volunteered to cook meals. She initially joined GG’s cookbook committee, where she put her nutrition background to full effect, contributing and testing recipes and writing the section about a healthy pantry. She joined the board in 2009 and chaired the fundraising committee. Francine introduced many Carlisle families to the farm, and her own family joined the effort, too—as ever-present volunteers and her son, Sam, as a youth board member.
“Highlights of my tenure include watching Michelle, Kayleigh, Doug, and Hannah develop into remarkable farmers and assisting Joe as he spearheaded a strategic vision for the organization,” Francine says. “That included hiring Fan as our first program manager and eventually Amy as our first executive director. I am incredibly proud of our staff, their dedication to sustainability and hunger relief, and their ability to engage and motivate a wide range of volunteers.”
She points to the fact that we have doubled the quantity of food grown since 2009 as “a real testament to the talent and commitment of our entire staff. I have learned so much from them, as well as the many inspiring board members I have been fortunate to serve with, and I will miss being a part of such a hard-working (and fun!) group of people.”
Both Francine and Joe say they will miss their regular engagement with the farm, but they feel a great confidence in the strength and integrity of the organization and the next generation of leadership.