Farm to Table, Farm to Community
For twenty-five years, Gaining Ground has pursued its mission to grow and give away healthy produce for hunger relief with the help of volunteers and community. While the mission has been steadfast, the chapters along the way have evolved, as recently captured in our book Gaining Ground, The Story of a Community Growing Food and Giving It All Away.
During the past seven years, we have focused on increasing output on our 3.5 acres of cultivated land by building infrastructure, soil quality, personnel and operational systems. This spring we doubled the number of hoop houses, caterpillar tunnels and perennial hedgerows, now four, ten, and eight respectively. More beds with controlled environments combined with increasingly fertile soils and ecosystems have given us a longer, steadier, more productive growing season.
As of late October, our talented farm staff has distributed 120,000 pounds of vegetables and fruit, a 20% increase over last year and double our 60,000 pounds in 2015. With thirteen distribution partners reaching communities between Boston, Lowell, Ayer, and Sudbury, we are helping 750 households every week through the growing season and up to 1,000 households during peak harvest weeks. Produce freshly harvested in the morning can be served on dinner tables that evening.
Our farmers couldn’t manage this growth without the 2,500 volunteers scheduled five days a week with tasks that match the farm’s needs and the volunteers’ abilities. People from over 65 communities volunteer as part of a group or as individuals and families. Initially motivated by community service requirements, high school students who come regularly build ownership and take pride in their “rain or shine” work under the leadership of Farm Team captains.
In addition to managing intense farming operations and coordinating volunteers, Gaining Ground farmers hosted a number of new outreach opportunities this year. In mid July, they showcased the farm during our first Soil Health Field Day as part of a three-year USDA grant in collaboration with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts (NOFA-MA). Over 60 farmers from New England learned about our no-till methods and participated in a round table discussion about best practices. Later in July, 30 metro west farmers toured Gaining Ground and discussed our pest management strategies as part of the Eastern Massachusetts Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (eMass CRAFT) program.
Farm Manager Doug Wolcik then led two large no-till workshops in the auditorium at the NOFA-MA summer conference. In early September, 30 cyclists coordinated by Slow Food Boston and Wright-Locke Community Farm toured Gaining Ground as part of a full day of learning about local food providers in this area.
As in past years, Gaining Ground participated in the annual Concord Farmers’ Market with an interactive booth on Saturday, September 14, and welcomed more than 250 visitors to our Community Harvest Celebration the next afternoon. It was a beautiful day with farm tours, bluegrass music by Southern Rail band and a mini farmer’s market with Nashoba Brook Bakery and Barrett’s Mill Farm. For the fourth year, we also coordinated a team of 16 riders for the Ride for Food cycling fundraiser organized by Three Squares New England.
It has been a very busy season with more growth on the farm and new opportunities to engage with wider communities. We are grateful for the farm staff and many other hands who have contributed to these accomplishments.