Farmer Spotlight: Rachael Walton

June is not only a turning point in our harvests, it is also the first full month of the season when our farming staff is at maximum capacity. New to the team this year is Field Crew Member Rachael Walton, a former Gaining Ground student volunteer who now brings her passion for sustainable agriculture and local food systems to her work on the farm. We are thrilled to have Rachael with us for the 2023 season, and to share a little bit about her with the Gaining Ground community.

Where is home and how did you find your way to Gaining Ground?

I was born in Arizona but moved to Concord right before starting middle school. For many years after the move to Massachusetts, Arizona still felt more like home to me. Since moving back to Concord after graduating college, however, I have started to find more of a sense of belonging here. Without a doubt, starting my job at Gaining Ground has played a large role in that transformation. 

I first heard about Gaining Ground when I was in middle school and was looking for a place to volunteer and fulfill my community service hours. I had never been on a farm before but thought it sounded fun and decided to go for it. During our session, I harvested strawberries, which I loved, and picked potato beetles off the potato plants, which I was grossed out by. I remember feeling very accomplished and proud of the work I had done after my volunteering session, but didn’t think too much more about my experience or the farm beyond that. 

Flash forward a few years to when I wrapped up my degree in sustainable agriculture at the University of Vermont. In my classes, we had talked extensively about no-till farming and other sustainable farming practices like tarping, utilizing cover crops, and maximizing above- and below-ground biodiversity. 

I had worked on organic farms in the area for my previous summer breaks and loved it, but I knew that I wanted to start gaining experience on a no-till farm. Early in my search, I rediscovered Gaining Ground, and was surprised to find that the farm I had a vague memory of volunteering at once in middle school was a no-till operation utilizing all of the sustainable farming practices I had learned about in college. I also was very drawn to the nonprofit aspect of the farm, so it seemed like a perfect fit! I sent my application in and the rest is history. 

Have you always had a knack for farming and growing things? Where did your interest in farming come from? 

I have no interest in houseplants and my family did not start gardening until recently, so I did not realize I enjoyed growing things until I started working on farms! I think my initial draw to farming was that I could be outside all summer and moving my body. I didn’t even really think about the whole “growing food” thing until I was actually doing it. It was a very happy surprise that I ended up loving the whole process so much. 

One thing that I have especially loved at Gaining Ground is that every farmer is involved in almost every aspect of growing our produce, from preparing the beds to seeding, transplanting, and harvesting. Being involved in each step of the long and challenging process of growing food has made me feel more connected to the land that we grow on and has given me a newfound sense of appreciation for the work that we are doing. 

Do you have a favorite farm task or tool to use? What do you like about it? 

My favorite farm project is either seeding and potting up plants in the greenhouse or trellising our cucumber and tomato plants. I love that these tasks require me to be focused and precise—I find that I can go into a “flow state” and spend hours happily seeding or trellising without realizing how much time has passed. 

I also love the satisfaction of seeing how great the cucumber and tomato plants look after trellising, and the excitement of having the seeds you planted all come to life in the greenhouse.

Do you have any favorite farmers or other folks doing work that motivates or inspires you?

Candace Taylor is an amazing farmer/educator in Winooski, Vermont, who runs their homestead, Conscious Homestead, out of their backyard. They offer paid fellowships for BIPOC growers to learn about ancestral land and food practices, host workshops and community events, and distribute free herbal and produce shares to BIPOC community members. 

I feel very inspired by Candace and Conscious Homestead because they are cultivating such a positive and large-scale impact on their community despite being a very small-scale operation. It goes to show that you do not need to be growing on hundreds of acres to be able to make a meaningful impact on your community and the local food system.