Delivering the Goods

A longtime volunteer helps us grow into the next phase

Growing fresh produce is only half the battle, of course. To fulfill Gaining Ground’s mission, we need to get tens of thousands of pounds of fresh veg into the right hands—those that can distribute it in food pantries or serve it in meal programs throughout the Boston area. For a long enough period of time that no one can remember exactly how long, John Gates has been a critical link in the chain of delivery, picking up food from the farm and delivering it to Boston’s Pine Street Inn, where it is incorporated into the 2,700 meals they serve daily. 

The owner of Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord, John joined Gaining Ground’s board about a decade ago. At that stage of the organization’s growth, he saw that it would be useful to have more control over the delivery process, instead of relying on volunteers to pick it up and get it where it needs to go. So when his term came to an end, John stepped down from the board and stepped up to take on the Boston delivery program.

Every other week during the growing season, before heading home to Cambridge at the end of the day, he would point his Prius toward Virginia Road, stopping at Gaining Ground. There he would load his car to the gills with boxes of fresh lettuce and kale, trays of tomatoes, or whatever else was fresh from the fields, then make the drive to the Pine Street Inn. 

He already knew the drill. John had come to know the Boston-area food pantries years before, when he would fill his car with the bakery’s leftover bread at the end of the day and travel all over the city, finding places—like the Pine Street Inn—who would take it. So he was well acquainted with their kitchen by the time he started showing up with a carload of vegetables. “A lot of what you see there is seconds from the grocery store,” he says. “Gaining Ground’s produce really stands out.”

And the experience was always a highlight of his day, he says. Rolling up to the Pine Street Inn, John would ask for help from the kitchen staff to help him unload. “One of the coolest things that happens is these guys would come over to see what we had and they’d shout to their crew, ‘Hey, come check this out,’ as they’d paw through the boxes. It’s such a basic thing, to grow food from the ground. And yet the joy that it brings is immense,” John says. 

This year, John and his Prius are retiring from their delivery gig, and the Boston Area Gleaners are picking up the next shift. The Gleaners partner with farms throughout eastern Massachusetts, collecting produce and distributing it to more than 500 hunger relief organizations in the area. Recently they recognized the need for more delivery and transportation support and acquired more vehicles to do the job. The move coincided with an increase in Gaining Ground’s Boston deliveries: Now that we have donations for the Pine Street Inn, Rosie’s Place, and Bridge Boston Charter School, the Gleaners will pick up from Gaining Ground and deliver to all three organizations every Tuesday. It’s really more than a Prius could or should handle, especially in a volunteer capacity, but we could not have arrived at this point without John’s efforts over the many miles and years. 

For his part, John says it has been gratifying to watch Gaining Ground blossom from its humble beginnings, “to see the harvests grow and to watch the barn go up, to realize the liquid gold of the soil as it’s been enriched—I feel fortunate to have watched a beautiful idea through to its full manifestation.”