On June 20, 2020 at their Annual Town Meeting, voters in the Town of Harvard agreed to contribute $150,000 of Community Preservation Funds toward the purchase of an agricultural preservation restriction (APR) for our Prospect Hill Orchard!
To ensure the long lasting future of harvesting fruit for hunger relief at our orchard, we have teamed up with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the Town of Harvard, Harvard Conservation Trust (HCT), and the Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT) to raise funds to endow our orchard through the sale of the APR, which will allow farming to continue on the land and prevent the property from ever being developed.
2019 was a milestone year. At the conclusion of the 2019 harvesting season, we had officially donated over ONE MILLION pounds of produce for hunger relief in just 5 years. Nutritious fruits and vegetables were made available to 83,538 of our neighbors who don’t have enough nutrient-rich food to put on their tables. This benchmark, however, would not have been possible without our community of dedicated volunteers, staff, board members, hunger relief partners, interns, monthly givers, corporate sponsors and our hundreds of individual donors. To read about the Impact of One Million in our 2019 Annual Report, and all the people who helped us get there – click here!
Spring is always a busy time at our Harvard orchard. 130 Ambrosia trees were planted which have already started to leaf out and some even have blossoms. The flowers will be pulled off for a few years to let the trees focus their energy on growing strong roots and branches. The other apple and peach trees are in fruit setting mode! Now that fruit is beginning to grow, fertilizing around the orchard will start. Spring is a critical time for pest management – our orchard team has been scouting for insect and disease issues.
We have also been harvesting asparagus daily and delivering it to Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry for donations on Wednesday and Fridays. Asparagus is the first crop we harvest from either property for donation. Last week was our Orchard Assistant, Savannah’s, last day. Savannah has been a part of the CHP Team since 2017 when she joined as a summer intern. After graduating from Clark University in 2018, she re-joined the team in the fall of 2018 as the orchard assistant. She hit the ground running in the busy harvest season – and never stopped. “I can’t express how much I will miss working with Savannah. Not only is she a hard worker with a great attitude, but she is also a wonderful individual that I have been lucky enough to get to know” says Susan Conant, Orchard Manager. Savannah has been essential in implementing so many projects at the orchard during her time here. While we are excited to see what her next chapter brings and wish her nothing but good luck, she will be truly missed by the staff and volunteers.
With over 3,000 apple trees in the orchard, pruning can be a daunting and time consuming task. To be exact, it takes the staff with the help of our “Tuesday Crew” volunteers three months to complete. This year has been particularly kind to the pruners, although we still have many weeks to go. The mild temperatures and little snow fall have made it easier to make our way through the orchard both because we are not trudging through snow and not wearing 5 layers of clothing to stay warm.
While some may think this a less than ideal time of year to spend hours and hours working outside, there are many good reasons why we prune in the winter. Maybe the most obvious reason is that we have more time available during this season when our days are not consumed by mowing, planting, harvesting, scouting the orchard, spraying, weeding and fertilizing. By the time January comes around, the trees have dropped their leaves allowing us to really see their structure and make the best cuts to promote growth where we want. When the trees are dormant there is a much lower risk of spreading disease, namely Fireblight, from tree to tree with pruning tools. But the most important reason we prune in the winter is because the trees are in a dormant state. Dormant pruning stimulates stronger, more vigorous growth. Basically, by pruning when the trees are dormant we are setting the trees up for a good start to the growing season where their stored energy can be utilized best on the branches we have selectively left to bear fruit.
In addition to pruning thousands of trees, we will also be removing approximately 100 of our older, less productive McIntosh trees this winter. In the Spring, we will replant with a new variety to our orchard called Ambrosia.
Spend your summer working with a leading Central Massachusetts non-profit organization as they continue to improve operations and expand their reach of healthy produce to Worcester County’s most vulnerable. Gain valuable experience and learn about a sustainable orchard and volunteer organization, the basics of non-profit operations, and volunteer organizing while you spend your summer outdoors. Work directly with an experienced Orchard Manager, responsible for 30 acres of fruit trees. Be part of a dynamic team aiding hunger relief in Worcester County while exploring your future.
Our Interns will participate fully in all aspects of operating a non-profit volunteer farming organization at our orchard. They will have direct hands-on engagement in farming 30 acres of fruit trees. Including 3,200 apple trees and 150 peach trees nestled on a 75 acre property in Harvard, MA. They will be involved in orchard operations and have opportunities to participate in special projects. Tasks include but not limited to:
Assist with orchard tasks such as pruning, fruit thinning, fertilizing, crop/growth analysis, mowing, irrigation, pest control, weed management, and property upkeep under the direction of our Orchard Manager.
Assist with maintaining a positive volunteer experience for all who visit the farm
Occasional visits to work with our farm team in North Grafton, MA will be required.
Support and work on some organizational events as needed
Other tasks as needed
Interns will have the opportunity to work with and learn from all staff members of the non-profit and will gain insight into the multi-faceted operations of the organization
Interns will be responsible for completing a group orchard project by the end of the internship
The internship also includes off-site visits to partner organizations which allows students an opportunity to learn more about local hunger relief efforts and non-profit partnerships.
Requirements, qualified applicants will:
Be an excellent communicator and be able to demonstrate previous leadership responsibility
Have interest and/or some experience in farming or gardening
Be able to lift farm equipment and/or produce weighing up to 50 pounds
Be comfortable using or learning to use power tools like weed-whackers and lawn mowers
Be prepared for work in outdoor weather conditions, we operate rain or shine
Work within a team or independently, be self-motivated, with great attention to detail
Have reliable transportation
Be available for 30 hours per week, June through August, working primarily morning hours with an occasional late afternoon/early evening. Unique scheduling needs may be negotiated in advance are are subject to operational needs of the organization
Be flexible and have a sense of humor! This is a real farming operation and we operate at the whim of nature, so flexibility is key
Community Harvest Project (CHP), a 501(c)3 organization, is dedicated to improving access to healthy foods through community engagement. Through their volunteer farming, education, and volunteer programs and partnerships, they bring thousands of community members together each year to build an engaged and healthier Worcester County. In 2019 working together with over 7,500 volunteers they produced significant fresh produce resources for individuals and families in need throughout our community who otherwise may not have had access. The produce is donated through numerous partner organizations such as The Worcester County Food Bank, Community Servings, Loaves and Fishes, Jeremiah’s Inn, and The Hector Reyes House. CHP operates at Brigham Hill Community Farm and White’s Farm in North Grafton, MA and at Prospect Hill Farm in Harvard, MA.
In just a few weeks we will be ending the harvest activities for the 2019 season at the orchard (phew!). It is a great feeling to see almost all of the fruit off the trees and the last boxes of apples from the cooler being shipped out to our partners. While apple harvest is my favorite time of year, I do look forward to the quieter days of November and December and the tasks of putting the farm to bed for the winter months.
Before the temperatures really drop, there are some projects we will be working on to prepare for the winter and also get a jump start on the next growing season. The apple trees will receive their fall application of fertilizer which will get them off to a good start in the coming Spring. Mouse guards, which protect the tree trunks from winter mouse damage, will be installed on all of the young trees whose thin bark is most susceptible to girdling. Additionally, the property will get a final mowing, which also deters rodents from entering the orchard as they become exposed to predators without the tall grass to hide in.
As always, I would like to thank the volunteers that have helped and continue to help us at the orchard this year. Whether you came to volunteer once or weekly, your hard work was much appreciated. This year marked our first peach harvest from trees planted in 2017 with the help of volunteers. We picked 20,000 pounds of apples from our two acre high-density trees, also planted with volunteers in 2016. Every growing season has challenges but I am always uplifted when I see the people of the community working together to help grow healthy food for others in need. Thank you!
As we finish out the farming season here at CHP it is always a great time to reflect on our successes over the past months. As always the first thing that comes to mind is the power of our programming thanks to the dedicated team of Volunteer Team Leaders that support our work. Without this great group of welcoming, engaging and committed volunteers the work of our farms would not be possible. We are incredibly lucky to have this group on our side and on the front lines representing us as the face of the organization on a daily basis. If you visited our farms this season you are likely to have a story of your own about how inspiring our Volunteer Team Leaders are.
We regularly hear great comments from our volunteers about their visits and are always impressed when someone leaves our farms and remembers a name. Comments like “Bruce was an awesome team leader. He was knowledgeable and friendly. Thank you for having us. We will be sure to come back again!” let us know just how valuable these connections are. Every day we are lucky enough to be surrounded by this great group as a supporting cast. There are so many ways to describe all that they inject into our work and how much they give of themselves to make our programming run smoothly day in and day out.
With that we could not miss the opportunity to applaud our Volunteer Team Leaders as our Volunteers of the Month for October. We would like to thank them for all that they are and all that they do to make it look seamless to the thousands of volunteers that support us over a season. We would like to offer a sincere thanks and acknowledgement of their role at Community Harvest Project. We can’t thank them enough and are humbled by their presence on a daily basis. Thanks to an amazing group of Volunteer Team Leaders, we can’t do this great work without your support!
Our Orchard Manager, Susan, has a wealth of knowledge and opinions about apples. We asked her to share some of her favorite varieties and what they are best for:
During this time of year, the orchard is buzzing with activity as we get the apple harvest in. Over the next three months, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we will pick over 3,000 apple trees with the majority of the apples going towards hunger relief.
One of the most frequent questions I get asked by the volunteers at the orchard is what my favorite kind of apple is. That’s sort of like asking me which child of mine is my favorite! The answer I give is, I don’t have a favorite, but rather, I have several that I love equally for different reasons.
The Best Baking Apple: In my opinion, using a mix of different apples is best when baking. Each apple lends its own flavor and texture to your pie or crisp and the results are delicious. But if you did have to choose just one apple for your Thanksgiving pie, choose Cortland. This apple variety is widely known as the best baking apple for good reason. It cooks to a perfect texture, not too mushy, like its parent the McIntosh and not too crunchy. It has the tartness you want with a baking apple but a hint of sweetness, as well. Fun fact: Cortland apples have beautiful white flesh and are slow to brown so use them on your cheese and fruit platter or in salads too!
The Best Fresh Eating Apple: Again, it’s impossible to choose just one! Macoun tend to be my go-to around this time of year. To me they are one of the very best fresh eating apples. Crisp, and juicy, with a complex sweet-tart flavor, this apple is a New England favorite. Macoun, like its McIntosh parent, is also very good for apple sauce. Other delicious fresh eating favorites: Esopus Spitzenburg is an explosion of flavor in one bite (if you can find it, try it!) and Honeycrisp, of course, are rated one of the best.
The Best All Purpose Apple: The Ginger Gold apple fits easily into this category. They are a very good baking apple and are also excellent for fresh eating. This early season apple is the first to ripen at our orchard so I look forward to these beautiful yellow apples as they mark the start of apple season. They are not great keepers so get them while they are in season! Runner up: Baldwin apples are not easy to come by these days even though they were once one of the most widely planted varieties in the U.S. They ripen late in the season and are another great all-purpose apple. Unlike the Ginger Gold, they store very well.
Despite the lingering cold of winter, the orchard is beginning to awaken with the longer days of sunshine. The past three months have been spent pruning our over 3,600 fruit trees and we are now ready to move to our springtime tasks and a much anticipated new growing season.
In less than a month we could be harvesting our first asparagus spears and watching the first apple blossoms bloom, a welcome sight after a long winter. This year we will harvest the first apples from the high-density apple orchard that was planted two years ago. We will also be working on some new projects, including growing hops as a fundraising crop.
As we wrap up one season and look forward to the next, I can’t help but be thankful for the wonderful and dedicated volunteers I have had helping me with various projects around the farm. The orchard “Tuesday volunteer crew” was instrumental in completing the apple tree pruning as we tacked over 1/3 more trees than last year. And I must say, the trees look great. Dana Noble and Will Thompson, two local high schoolers from Bromfield High School, recently completed forty hours of community service at Prospect Hill Orchard and helped with tasks ranging from installing mouse guards on young trees to pruning and thinning apple trees. And a special thanks to the Harvard Girl Scout Troop 30892 for completing yet another project for CHP. This winter the girls built much needed storage shelving units in our barn and painted a beautiful sign to welcome future volunteers. It has been wonderful to have the support from the community and has gotten our 2018 season off to a great start!