Gaining Ground Welcomes Exciting Additions to its Board of Directors

CONCORD, Mass., October 8, 2021—Gaining Ground, a Concord nonprofit farm growing organic produce exclusively for hunger relief, today announced the appointment of long-time supporter and board member Polly Vanasse as board president, and the addition of four new members to its board of directors: Laurie Engdahl, Ashley Perssico, Guillermo Ruiz-Rico, and Kristen Van Damm. 

These new board members will provide strategic direction for continued advancement around Gaining Ground’s mission to grow nutrient-dense organic produce with help from volunteers of all ages and abilities and give it all away for free to food programs serving Boston, Lowell, and the MetroWest.

“We are thrilled and extremely grateful to welcome our new board members,” said Jennifer Johnson, executive director of Gaining Ground. “Each one of them provides our board with a unique background and meaningful perspective and we look forward to their insight, expertise, and guidance in the future.”

Polly Vanasse, who lives in Concord and recently retired from the Fenn School after spending the majority of her teaching career at Nashoba Brooks School, has served on Gaining Ground’s board of directors since 2017. Every year since its founding—as it expanded and changed locations along the way—Polly brought her students to participate in the farm’s hunger-relief work. After 20 years of supporting and engaging with Gaining Ground and its community, she joined the board. The organization is thrilled that she is now stepping into the role of board president.

“As my understanding of equity and food justice has evolved, I have come to understand that it’s a human right to have access to fresh, nutritious food,” said Polly. “Gaining Ground has found partners who share this view and together we are able to make a difference in helping families experiencing food insecurity. In my new role, I look forward to creating many contexts for the board to collaborate as a team and promote growth in our organization—always keeping our mission at the forefront.”

Laurie Engdahl, who graduated from the University of Connecticut and University of Michigan Law School, resides in Concord and has been a labor attorney for over 30 years. In 2016, she began to change her focus from law to art and community, and completed a master’s degree in teaching and visual arts from Salem State University. Laurie will bring her expertise with legal and human resources issues to Gaining Ground, as well as her creativity and enthusiasm for community engagement. 

“I jumped at the opportunity to become involved with Gaining Ground,” said Laurie. “It aligns so well with issues that are most important to me: The environment, climate change, and economic justice.”

Originally from Connecticut, Ashley Perssico moved to Massachusetts to attend Bentley University and now resides in Wilmington. Ashley has worked for Market Basket, launching their first-ever website and social media accounts, and at Constant Contact she focuses on social media and influencer marketing. She will bring her marketing expertise and zest for helping out in the fields with the farmers to Gaining Ground’s communications and volunteering committees.

“It’s undeniable that everyone who visits the farm is just absolutely hooked by the beauty of the land, the passion of the farmers, and the importance of the mission,” said Ashley. “I feel so lucky and honored to be just a small part of Gaining Ground’s story and I look forward to serving the farm and community in this new way.” 

Guillermo Ruiz-Rico, who lives in Waltham, works as a product manager at S&P Global. Originally from Spain, he moved to the U.S. eight years ago. As a member of Gaining Ground’s board, Guillermo plans to bring his experience to the organization’s finance or development committees.

“Coming from a country with ample and affordable produce, it was shocking to me seeing how expensive fresh, healthy food is in Massachusetts,” said Guillermo. “We are what we eat and being healthy should not be a luxury. I’m deeply enthusiastic about Gaining Ground’s mission to improve the health and well-being of those who need it the most through access to nutritious food.”

For the last 18 years, Kristen Van Damm has worked in various positions within the field of human resources, and is currently a director of HR at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Kristen, who resides in Jamaica Plain, brings to Gaining Ground a wealth of experience in the areas of professional development, talent management, coaching, succession planning, and change management—as well as a lifelong passion for food, building community around food, and addressing issues of food insecurity in our communities. 

“In joining the board, I look forward to bringing my years of experience in the field of human resources to help Gaining Ground expand its reach to provide the most good to those most in need,” said Kristen. “I am honored for the opportunity to join an organization comprised of a staff and board of such incredibly smart, driven, fun, and creative individuals focused on such important work.”