The Measure of a Year

Image shows farmers harvesting in a field of greens.

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure,
Measure a year?”

Musical theater buffs may recognize the lyric above from Rent and a song that explores how one defines the truly important events that occur during the course of a year. The Tony award-winning play celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and multiple casts have recorded virtual performances bringing songs of hope, friendship, and love to lift the spirits of essential workers during the pandemic.  

My first day as executive director of Gaining Ground was just over one year ago—on March 9, 2020. Before the week was over, it was clear that the world as we knew it had changed dramatically.

As I measure the past year, many thoughts come to mind.  

Many of us will remember those early days, measuring the length of grocery store lines, counting empty shelves, and sticking to quantity limits on staples such as flour and eggs. For most of us, the inconveniences and shortages were short-lived. However, for far too many, the pandemic’s effects are profound and tragic. We grieve with the families and friends of the more than 580,000 people in our country who lost their lives to the virus. We stand in support with thousands of others in our region who struggle with the pandemic’s economic fall-out. Spiraling unemployment rates, furloughs, and dramatic increases in grocery prices—the largest since the early 1970s—have pushed food insecurity to historic highs.  

Other measurements are sobering. Massachusetts has experienced the largest relative increase of food-insecure individuals in the nation due to COVID-19. And the highest increase of food-insecure children. In Massachusetts, 17.5 percent of residents are now experiencing food insecurity compared to 8.4 percent of residents pre-pandemic.  

The pandemic also necessitated a temporary suspension of our volunteer program. Instead of measuring the number of individuals, families, and groups on the farm, we had to count the days until it would be safe to regather.  

But there were other, more hopeful measures.  

As essential workers, our farmers continued to work without interruption. They grew and harvested more than 40 varieties of vegetables for a year-end total of 127,429 pounds of food—a new Gaining Ground record. We donated all of this food to hunger-relief organizations in Concord, Boston, Lowell, and throughout the region.  

Our donors have been most generous, making it possible for us to hire more farmers, grow more food, and add more hunger-relief partners to our program. Gaining Ground’s Board of Directors dedicated untold hours leading the organization through challenges and helping us run our Food for Families farmer’s market in new and creative ways.

Although our farm is usually at rest during the winter, Gaining Ground has set a goal to grow and harvest nutritious produce in all 12 months of 2021. Through March, we have already donated 1,500 pounds of food.  

As we gear up for the height of the 2021 growing season and get ready to welcome volunteers back onto the farm, we continue to measure the ways we can fulfill our mission—in pounds of crispy carrots, in smiles on volunteers’ faces, and in the number of people who receive fresh, healthy food.