Each year we challenge ourselves to do more, be better, and make a bigger impact on our community. This year was no exception, and we undertook a number of Initiatives to improve our Volunteer Farming and Education programs. Below are just a few of the many projects you may have seen us working on this summer!
Increased Produce Variety: Each year we work with our partners to create our crop plan, so we can ensure that we’re growing the right types of produce for our recipients. It’s not enough to grow nutritious food, it needs to be tasty too! This year we trialed a number of new varieties including tatume squash, tomatillos, ground cherries, and different varieties of sweet peppers and eggplant. Some crops fared better than others, but we received great feedback and are looking forward to trying new plantings next year. In Harvard, we also planted an acre of peaches! Although these won’t bear fruit right away, they will eventually help to diversify our fruit donations.
Partnership Diversification: As our vegetable and fruit production increases, we continue to work with new community partners to reach food insecure individuals. This year was our largest group yet, with a great mix of new and returning partners in both our Grafton and Harvard communities. These organizations included: Worcester County Food Bank, Community Servings, Family Health Center of Worcester, Grafton Food Pantry, The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden, Hector Reyes House Kylie’s Kare Kitz for Kids, Loaves & Fishes, Key Program, YouInc, Bread of Life Food Pantry, Boston Area Gleaners.
Education Improvements: Since we started operating nutrition education programs we’ve learned more and more each year about how we can better educate our students. In 2017 we offered a new series of cooking classes and scholarships for our Sprouting Minds programs. We also introduced educational signs around the farm, so our visitors can learn more about our practices (like composting!) and we debuted a new presentation for our student volunteers to better engage them in nutritional principles before they headed out to the fields.
Cover Cropping: One question we were asked by several volunteers this year was why one of our fields looked like it was growing grass instead of vegetables. Well, it wasn’t grass, but cover crop! Farming can deplete the nutrients naturally found in soil, but by planting certain crops like rye and vetch, you can add those nutrients back year. We have traditionally cover cropped in the fall, but this year we began a rotating acreage program where one field will be out of production each year so it can receive longer care. But don’t worry, we still planted plenty of vegetables, and we used succession planting to ensure we didn’t decrease our production.
Equipment Changes & Upgrades: Thanks to the generosity of our donors we were able to make several changes to increase our farming efficiency. First, we repaired our rototiller for field maintenance, and purchased two Cub cultivators (from the 1970s!) to help us keep the weeds down. Then, we improved our irrigation in both locations: in Harvard our newly planted peaches now have a new irrigation line to match, and both our greenhouse and outdoor irrigation was automated for greater efficiency. Lastly, we purchased a chisel plow, which helps to till the fields and reduce soil compaction. These changes gave our farmers more time to spend with our volunteers, and will continue making a difference in the years ahead.
These improvements would not be possible without the hard work of our staff, volunteers, and community supporters. We are especially thankful to the following funders for their assistance in making these changes a reality: Agnes Lindsay Charitable Trust, Amelia Peabody Charitable Foundation, Avidia Bank, Bank of America Foundation, DCU for Kids, Eastern Bank Charitable Foundation, French Family Foundation, Fuller Foundation, Hoche-Scofield Foundation, Nypro Foundation, People’s United Community Foundation, Project Bread, TJX Foundation, Tufts Neighborhood Service Fund, Worcester County Food Bank Fund to End Hunger, and the Worcester Garden Club.