Volunteer Q&A:  Ashley Perssico of Toast

Just as perennial plants and herbs delight us with consistent nourishment on the farm, Gaining Ground is sustained and encouraged by perennial volunteers—those who return year after year. 

We’re lucky to count Ashley Perssico among our enduring supporters. Not only has Ashley grown from a recurring volunteer to a trusted board member, but she has also connected her colleagues at Toast and Toast.org with Gaining Ground!

Since 2022, employee groups from Toast have visited the farm numerous times to work and learn with our skilled farmers. The company and its philanthropic arm have also made numerous meaningful investments in our mission, helping us grow fresh, healthy produce exclusively for hunger relief as rates of food insecurity rise in Eastern Massachusetts. Thank you!

We recently connected with Ashley to learn more about her introduction to Gaining Ground, what inspired her to get involved, and why our work resonates so deeply at her workplace.

How did you first learn about Gaining Ground, and why did you choose to get involved with the farm? How has that involvement grown over the years?

I first learned about Gaining Ground in 2019. At the time, I was working for a local technology company with Gaining Ground’s current board president, Sue Mildrum. Sue was a board member at the time and had put together a volunteer opportunity for our coworkers. I attended and immediately fell in love with the farm and the staff. Despite the fact that my first volunteer session was spent thinning carrots in the pouring rain, I immediately found myself wanting to come back. I brought my partner, Alex, along with me that summer, and we both became enamored with the mission of the organization and the serotonin boost we got every time we volunteered. Obviously, 2020 was challenging for many reasons, but it was especially tough knowing that our community was struggling more than ever and that we weren’t able to volunteer in person. Fortunately, it only made us come back stronger in 2021, and I made sure to snag a spot on the first day of the volunteer season that summer. When I was approached by Executive Director Jennifer Johnson and then-President Polly Vanasse about joining the board of directors in 2021, it was the easiest decision I’ve ever made. I still love spending time on the farm doing volunteer work, but now I am also able to apply my marketing experience to help the organization succeed. Since joining the board, I’ve taken part in various committees and have even chaired our Communications Committee. I take every opportunity I get to brag about Gaining Ground and to invite folks out to experience it themselves. There is truly nothing like it!

Where do you call home, and what do you enjoy doing with your time?

I’m originally from the borough of Naugatuck, located in the southwestern part of Connecticut. I’ve always felt a strong connection to the Boston area, so when I came to Massachusetts to attend college at Bentley University, it was no surprise that I decided to stick around. I currently live in Wilmington, MA, with my partner Alex and our two cats, Shay and Sadie. When I’m not working or on the farm, I can be found reading, taking photos of wildlife, or attending comedy shows. I’m a bit of a homebody, so all I need to be happy is my cats, a blanket, a glass of matcha, and a good book.

How (and why!) did you convince your colleagues at Toast that volunteering with Gaining Ground is a great idea? Why do you think our mission resonates so much with your workplace?

In January 2022, I joined the marketing team at the Boston-based technology company, Toast. Since I learned about Gaining Ground through a workplace volunteer experience myself, I felt that it was inevitable that I set up volunteer opportunities for my coworkers at Toast to, hopefully, follow the same path I did. Gaining Ground has been such a great match for the work we do at Toast, especially our social impact arm known as Toast.org. The purpose of Toast.org is to enrich the food experience for all and create a healthier, more sustainable, and equitable world. Gaining Ground’s mission aligns well with that of Toast.org, so it’s been wonderful seeing how many Toasters (what we call Toast employees) have felt drawn to the farm organically — no pun intended. As a hybrid workplace, the volunteer sessions have also provided a wonderful opportunity for us to get together outside of the office. I’ve met so many of my now friends via Toast.org volunteer sessions at Gaining Ground. People I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with on a day-to-day basis have become confidants after spending time together on the farm. I feel lucky to work for Toast for so many reasons, but one of them is our dedication to giving back to the community. For the past three years, Toast has celebrated Earth Day with an Employee Grants Challenge, where employees have the opportunity to pitch a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to a senior leadership team panel of judges. I am proud to share that Gaining Ground has received a grant every year so far! It has been truly rewarding to combine my day job at Toast with my position on the board at Gaining Ground. I am so grateful for the work both of these organizations do to help our community.

Volunteers do a LOT on the farm! What projects or tasks do you like the most? Which do you like the least?

Over the past six years, I have really run the gamut of farm work! From planting and harvesting to weeding and mulching, I truly do love it all. While it’s not the most glamorous of tasks, packing the banana boxes holds a special place in my heart. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the end result of all the hard work that’s done on the farm and to package them with care as they make their way to their next step in the process of feeding our friends and neighbors. I’m allergic to bees, so the only thing I avoid at the farm is going near the apiary! 

If you could be any Gaining Ground crop, what would you choose and why?

Wow, I’ve never considered what crop I would be. My gut instinct says I’m a tomato, but I’ve been in those hoop houses, and they are much too humid for me! I suppose I’d be a carrot. We’re both mostly made up of water and need personal space in order to grow. Plus, as a born and raised New Englander, I know what it takes to survive a winter, and carrots are one of the few vegetables that can be overwintered. But if we’re just going by favorites, I’d choose a potato. They’re my favorite food and are good no matter how you prepare them: mashed, au gratin, baked, fried… the list goes on!

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