The Power of Volunteers: 2018 in Review

south unumAs we end our year we need to ensure that we reflect back and offer a hearty thank you to the thousands of volunteers that visited our farms in 2018. This group of over 8,726 strong is the key to our success. During our early season they come out and plant thousands of seedlings, they pull weeds, harvest, wash and package veggies and help us put our farms to rest again at the end of the season. All of this work is done in the outdoors in the many types of weather that New England throws our way, sometimes several types of weather in one day. All of this selfless work and time is given so that we are able to grow and donate healthy locally grown produce to those seeking hunger relief services throughout the community that we serve. Through the work of our selfless volunteers and all of the hours that they serve we are able to function like a well oiled machine, for that we are eternally grateful.

In the midst of the large number of volunteers there is a small but mighty force of Volunteer Team Leaders leading the charge and helping to facilitate the work of our farms. In 2018 we had 45 Volunteer Team Leaders serve at our farms and they are the glue that holds this place together. Whether they are serving on an advisory committee, working in the fields with our diverse groups of volunteers, helping to prune or deliver to one of our community partners or volunteering at an event this group always can be counted on to represent CHP in the best of light. Their energy, drive and commitment is top notch and without them there would be no volunteer operation here at our farms. So, please join us in thanking our 2018 Volunteer Team Leaders for all that they do day in and day out to welcome and engage our thousands of volunteers. We could not do this great work without them and are humbled by their presence.  

So, to all of our thousands of volunteers, 44 Volunteer Team Leaders, Volunteer Board Members, Advisory Committee Members and outside Group Coordinators we would like to say a hearty thank you for all that you do. It takes a lot of effort to make this look easy and without you all we would be lost.

Thank you all for your support and we hope to see you all back on our farms in 2019.  

Volunteer of the Month: Produce Delivery Team Leaders

10.03.2018.Chris Howe.Partner DeliveryIf you know Community Harvest Project, you also know that we rely heavily on our Volunteer Team Leaders to make our operations run smoothly and efficiently on a daily basis. This hearty team of dedicated volunteers is the face of our organization and they always are available to answer a call for help. Fast forward to late spring when we began to have conversations with some of our smaller partners about their weekly pick ups at the farm. Our friends at Loaves and Fishes in Devens, and Visitation House and Family Health Center in Worcester had some specific challenges in their operations that would prevent them from picking up their weekly allotment of fresh produce. After some brainstorming we decided to reach out to our Team Leaders to see if any of them would be willing to help. Challenge solved.

This month we would like to thank our incredibly dedicated Volunteer Team Leader delivery crew that made sure thousands of pounds of fresh healthy produce made it out to our partners. By loading up their personal vehicles and driving hundreds of miles over the past few months this team continued to show what’s best about the Community Harvest Project Team. Thank you to Chris Howe, Linda McPherson, Peach Warren, Russ Anderson and David Small for quite literally going the extra mile to ensure that our partner agencies clients received the bounty of the work that they help facilitate here in our fields.  

To Chris, Linda, Peach, Russ and David we want to say thank you for your amazing commitment to our mission and your drive to help our community.  We appreciate all that you have done in order to make sure those seeking hunger relief had the opportunity to access fresh produce grown on our farms.  Thanks for being part of our team!

March 2017 – Volunteers of the Month: Eastern Michigan University

20170222_155326We recently hosted an Alternative Break with students from Eastern Michigan University who were visiting Worcester County in order to learn more about food justice.  These students took this time away from school to have meaningful discussion and immersion into the non-profit world in order to learn more about those who help to provide food to communities in need.  During their time with us they helped to prepare the greenhouses for spring planting, helped us to get caught up on some backlogged office tasks and spent some time at the orchard helping to prepare mouse guards for our thousands of trees.  In addition they visited several of our partner organizations to learn about the many facets of the challenging issues surrounding food insecurity.  They were able to tour the Worcester County Food Bank, worked in the kitchen with Community Servings, helped stock the food pantry and assist some of the recipients of food relief at Jeremiah’s Inn and ate lunch at Café Reyes a program of the Hector Reyes House.   

IMG_1560These students represented all four classes from EMU, Stephen Elugbemi – 2017, Tamara Washington – 2017, Louise Barbosa – 2017, Joshua Plonka – 2017, Kenadi Jefferson – 2018, Nolan Peterson – 2019 and Mariah McHaffie – 2020.  We truly enjoyed hosting this experience for them and feel lucky to have learned as much as they did from their impressions of the work that we do and the community in which we serve.  We would like to give them a rousing round of applause for their interest in learning more about food justice and the non-profit world.  They all showed great potential and desire to go back to their home communities to “Plant a Seed” and make a difference!  

Here are just some of the impressions that they had during their quick visit to our community:

  • About Community Harvest Project; “This organization does some amazing work with some great partners.  The heart of every organization is the leadership, and working with them has made working on the farm a fun experience that we have looked forward to taking part in.  It was surprising to us that this team was so dedicated to teaching us everything about the farm and the community, it was hard to believe that they could be equally invested in the thousands of people who come to their farm every year.  However, these days of service working side by side proves that love for the work has created a deep love for the people involved, and we have never met a more passionate group.”
  • Visiting Community Servings; “Being in a high production kitchen was amazing, but knowing where the produce is sourced as well as where it will end up enriched the experience deeply.  It was also an opportunity to meet other volunteers who had various reasons for choosing to serve their community; this strengthened my purpose as well. This activity was the most direct impact I feel I have made within this week-long experience.”
  • “Overall, this week has provided an opportunity for each of us to understand the amount of work and effort that these non-profits commit themselves to in not only building their organizations, but interacting with their communities at all levels and in every possible way.  This experience has stressed how a large movement starts by just one person dedicating their time to positively impact their environment.  While no organization is perfect, our group was able to create, from these experiences, new ideas about how we can help our own communities when we return home.”

    Read the rest of the March Sprout!

December 2016 – Volunteer of the Month

wegmansAs we wind down the final days of 2016 the team here at Community Harvest Project would like to thank our thousands of volunteers that volunteered with us this year.  It is no small feat to produce the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that we do here, but as always our volunteers make it look easy.  This year we hosted over 10,000 volunteers that served over 29,000 hours in a variety of capacities on our farms.   We could not be prouder to have this great group of people supporting us and are already looking forward to getting back out into the fields in the spring.  All of this effort is a gift to our organization and the community at large as we continue to try to help our neighbors improve their access to fresh and healthy food that is grown locally.

orchardIn 2016 we hosted 19 student interns from colleges and universities as close by as Worcester and as far away as Pennsylvania and Maine.  Our intern program is designed to give students an inside view of the non-profit farming world but in the end they leave a lasting impact on our staff and volunteers.  Their hours of work on behalf of our community is greatly appreciated.  We also could not to the work that we do without the support and guidance of a fantastic volunteer Board of Directors.  This mighty group works tirelessly on our behalf here and throughout the community.   Our dedicated group leaders do the hard work organizing and communicating with the large groups that they organize from their respective organizations.  Year after year we have hundreds of people working on our behalf within organizations throughout Worcester County and beyond.  In addition we have countless teachers, professors, chaperones, program managers, troop leaders and parents to thank for their support in getting their respective groups out to the farm.

lindaIf you are familiar with us you recognize the many different roles that come together but there is one that stands out for their level of commitment day in and day out.  Our Team Leaders allow us to run this organization seamlessly by providing the knowledge, guidance, expertise and general order to the work that we do.  This small but mighty group stood strong with 42 active members in 2016 as they helped to manage each day with an exceptional amount of spirit and grit.   We could not run our farming operation without this group of committed volunteers coming from all parts of Worcester County to help ensure a great experience for all volunteers that visit our farms.  Please join us in offering a hearty thank you for all that they do, their hard work on our behalf is the secret sauce that is the main ingredient of our success.

blueberriesWe therefore would like to thank the over 10,000 volunteers, interns, Board of Directors, group leaders, teachers, professors, chaperones, program managers, troop leaders, parents and Community Harvest Project Team Leaders that selflessly gave their time throughout 2016 in order to help our community.  We could not do this work without your support and stand humbled to be in your presence.  Thank you all!

Read the rest of the December Sprout!

November 2016 – Volunteer of the Month

Waters Trebuchet Team

waters.PNG

This month we have a lot to celebrate after a historically successful Harvest Home Festival and 5K and our Volunteers of the Month have a direct relationship to that day. We are always amazed when our calls for help get answered and Jim McPherson answered the original call some five or so years ago. We wanted to liven up our annual Harvest Home Festival with some pumpkin trebuchets. The thought of pumpkins flying through the sky and crashing to the ground really had us excited and fit right into our family friendly event. Jim and his family took on the challenge and designed and built the first trebuchet used here at CHP. Fast forward four years later and Jim’s colleague Michael Fogwill happened to see the Jim and his trebuchet in action last year and that got his wheels spinning. They both worked at Waters Corporation in Milford and thought that this could become a team competition between their two departments. Both Jim and Michael came to the farm through other dedicated volunteers – their wives are regular Team Leaders here. It’s funny how you can connect the dots at the farm and get everyone involved with their unique talents.

Fast forward to the end of August 2016 and things really heated up. Jim, Michael, and their respective teams began designing and building two pretty spectacular trebuchets with the November 6th date as their focus. Lots of weekends and late afternoons were spent by both of the teams as the dream began to come to fruition with the building process. There was plenty of camaraderie and even friendly challenging between the two teams as they went into test mode. One took the path of size and mass to do the job and the other took the path of proven success from years past. They created so much excitement that two team members even engaged their younger children in building two smaller machines. In the end everyone won with a spectacular day of pumpkin chucking and quite a draw for one and all as everyone watched in awe as these teams machines operated flawlessly again and again.

So please join us in thanking and congratulating Jim, Michael, and their respective teams for all that they did to help make our Harvest Home Event a success. The excitement and energy that they helped to create for our visitors as they arrived to the sight of pumpkins flying in an arc so high that they could be seen from the road was amazing. Their commitment was obvious from the outset but they stayed through and saw the job completely done as they disassembled their machines and put them away for storage until next year.  They truly embodied the spirit of our volunteers and we could not have done it without them. Thanks, Jim, Michael, and the entire Waters Trebuchet Team!

Check out the rest of the November Sprout!

October 2016 – Volunteers of the Month

The McDonough Family

leah-finn-ciaraPlease join us in a rousing round of applause for Leah, Finnegan and Keira McDonough, our Volunteers of the Month for October.  Like many of our volunteers something here seems to have resonated with them and they can be found visiting the farm again and again.  It seems that they have found a great family activity and originally what was going to be an article written by our staff has turned into a question and answer session that can’t be matched as a story to inspire.  Thank you Leah, Mike, Finnegan and Keira for all you do to support Community Harvest Project we really appreciate your efforts.

How did you first hear of CHP?

I was working for a regional accounting firm and in 2008 the firm decided to host an annual Community Day of Caring.  I was on the committee for our Westborough office to plan the event and we had to search for organizations where our large office could volunteer.  In our search, we came across the Community Harvest Project and having moved to Grafton only a couple years earlier, I was surprised to find such a great organization was basically in my backyard.  CHP was a much smaller organization back then and did not have the reach that it does now.  It is wonderful to see how much it has grown and what a tremendous following of supporters it has generated over the last several years.

Why did you choose Community Harvest Project as a non-profit to support?

From the first time I volunteered as part of my former employer’s Community Day, I knew that the Community Harvest Project was a special place.  The people there were so caring, kind and invested in doing something for the greater good.  The first day I volunteered, I also signed up to become a Volunteer Team Leader and I really enjoyed that role for the next few years until I had my first child.  It is incredible how many people you meet from all walks of life who come together to help others while getting your hands a little dirty.  I have been very much looking forward to the day when I could take my children to get involved and as this past spring approached, I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty again!

 My kids and I enjoy looking at the choices of rows we can sponsor each year.  I always let them pick which fruit/vegetable they want to sponsor.  I also use it as vehicle to make an annual memorial contribution on behalf of two very close people that we lost a few years ago who meant a lot to both my husband, Mike, and myself.  It is great to be able to make a financial donation to a local organization where you can really see how that monetary support is used while also being able to make a donation on behalf of people who will forever remain in our hearts.  We very much value having a local organization like the Community Harvest Project that we can support both financially and personally.  The fundraising events are also tremendous and something the whole family can enjoy.

What are you hoping for Finnegan and Keira to experience and learn while volunteering here?

My original hope was to try to leave the farm a little better than when we first arrived each day, but to my surprise, my kids really took to farming too!  I wanted to encourage them to come with me to CHP with the hope that they would start to learn what it means to give back to your community, that it is important to help others and you can have a lot of fun doing it too.  I also hope that when they are a little older to be able to take them to the Worcester County Food Bank so they can not only be involved in the planting, weeding and harvesting of fresh produce, but also see where that produce goes and how many people can benefit from it.  Every year we make a point to go through our outgrown clothes and books/toys to donate to others who could use them.  I try to teach them about their neighbors and other community members not having as much as we might have, but to see it all first hand through the Community Harvest Project is such a tremendous feeling when you can donate your time and help others.  It is extremely gratifying!

What are your favorite things to do on the farm?  Least favorite?  How about Finnegan and Keira?

I really love it all!  Each day that we visit, we try to show up at the farm with a positive attitude and a willingness to take on any task that is needed.  Keira and Finnegan really seem to enjoy planting and they also really enjoy harvesting, especially when they could compete over who found the biggest pepper or squash.  They were also very interested in seeing all the groups, especially the young children their age that came on field trips from school.  I think it helped reinforce that there is a job for everyone at any age and with any ability or limitation.  I’m not going to lie, they definitely had days when they weren’t really into it and I did most of the work, but I would always encourage them and try to find a way to give them a job or responsibility so they contributed in some way that day.  Beyond the enjoyment of being outside and getting dirty as we work hard to help others, I really enjoy all the fascinating people that you get to meet.  This past year we met people young and old, local and from foreign countries, and everyone has a different story as to how they learned about CHP and why they were there on the farm that day.  What an extraordinary experience that can be shared!

What advice would you give to other families looking for a place to volunteer?

I would tell them don’t hesitate to try it out!  It is such a rewarding experience.  The staff are AMAZING and so engaged with the farm, the volunteers and the overall mission to aid in providing fresh produce to those in need.  Some days are hot and some are very wet, but knowing what an impact you are making as you see all of the other volunteers out there contributing their time and energy as they get dirty in an effort to help others, could not be more fulfilling.  There is a job or task for everyone as we all work together to help feed those that are hungry.

finn-keira-collageIs there anything else that you would like to add?

In an effort to really teach my kids what an impact their time and energy was making I created a collage of pictures and a log of all the things we did while on the farm in 2016.  We have this collage in our kitchen so we can see it every single day and acknowledge what a great job we did together.  I wanted to show them that while one visit may not seem like much, we really did a lot and when you add it all up, look at how much we accomplished over the growing season.

Thank you all for the time you put in over the season! The staff had a wonderful time getting to know the whole McDonough family, and watching the kids get more comfortable farming. We loved having you out and hope to see you in the spring!

Read the rest of the October 2016 Sprout!

September 2016 – Volunteer of the Month

annika-and-nellWe have been fortunate to work with a series of incredible UMASS Medical Students to implement the Farm to Health Initiative at the Family Health Center of Worcester since 2014. At Family Health Center of Worcester, 90% of patients are low income and over 40% identified as food insecure. Our participant groups included: Adult Diabetes Groups, Prenatal Groups, and a group of families interested in participating in programming to combat youth obesity. Different from previous years, the distribution was able to operate out of a meeting room within the health center, and served exclusively populations who were participating in the above-mentioned groups. Beyond distributing produce, this year’s program emphasized the role of produce as a tool for patients to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, and thereby achieve their health goals.

This year, Annika Bannon and Nell Pinkston led the charge. The star students developed and administered patient surveys to gauge baseline data. They were involved in the early stages of planning this year’s programming, which was drastically different – more personalized – from any previous year. They trained with Cooking Matters to be able to assist with the class subsequently offered at the Family Health Center of Worcester. Once the distribution started and Cooking Matters classes were still operating, that meant that the students were involved in the program each Wednesday from 8:30am in the morning to roughly 8:00pm, with some breaks in between. They were instrumental in facilitating the new program model, which focused on serving small groups and getting to know individuals within those small groups. Annika and Nell made personal phone calls to remind each patient about the program each week, a recommended practice in the field, and enjoyed building relationships with the patients who received the fresh vegetable shares through home delivery. Their calm personalities and strong focus helped patients easily build trust with them. The students diligently tracked participation, maintaining thorough notes from week to week, so that when it comes time to look back on what happened, we have data, not doubts.

As in the past, UMASS Medical School paid the two students to devote their summers, June through early August, to the project. However, just like the medical students before them, Annika and Nell didn’t stop their involvement in early August. Despite resuming their academic obligations, they both continued to make time to call patients weekly to remind them about the distribution, communicate with providers in the health center who led each health group, deliver shares to patient homes, and weigh in on the end of season logistics. They went above and beyond what we had expected of them, and we are truly grateful for their help in making this year’s program a success!

Both students said they really enjoyed getting to know the patients we worked with this summer – especially through the home visits. They shared a story about one of the 11 year old students who participated in the Cooking Matters cooking classes at Family Health Center of Worcester. This young student has been prepping food for meals and cooking at home ever since she started the classes – and even as of a month later! Each week, she proudly invited the UMass Medical School students helping out to see what she has made in the fridge. These relationships came to mean so much to Annika and Nell, who we could easily see, are going to make wonderfully compassionate and grounded doctors. We will miss them, and wish them the absolute best in their studies!

Read the rest of the September 2016 Sprout!

August 2016 – Volunteer of the Month

jim ex.PNG

Jim Sicard

As an example of the amazing efforts of our Volunteer Team Leaders in supporting our mission this month we would like to congratulate Jim Sicard.  As a Team Leader at our North Grafton farms Jim has been involved at Community Harvest Project for three years now.  He regularly can be found working with our diverse groups of volunteers and leading them in their efforts.  As we continue to grow we are always looking for new ways to engage our thousands of volunteers and Jim has played a key part in our efforts over the summer.

As many of you know, we were given the gift of Prospect Hill Farm in Harvard, MA in the fall of 2014.  Since then we have been learning more about the distinct differences involved in operating an orchard.  The day to day in Harvard is much different with the peak volunteer time being just a short six weeks of harvesting in September and October.  We still do however have the need for small experienced groups of orchard volunteers and that is where Jim upped the game this spring and summer.  He not only assisted us with the planting of our high density orchard but he became a key member of our Wednesday orchard volunteer team.  In speaking with him he described the great work of planting the trees and that he wanted to see them through to the next step.  His help in setting the trellis system for the new orchard, pruning trees that had the fire blight virus and helping to clear brush and thorny vines from under the existing trees was selfless.

Jim explained that he really enjoyed helping to make improvements that would impact not only our ability to grow but also the thousands of future volunteers that will visit this farm.  With the drive out being quite enjoyable he happens to be located almost as close to Harvard as he is to North Grafton.  He enjoys the rural nature of the area and then went on to talk about what a great environment it is with the rolling hills and view from the orchard.  It is obvious that he really is committed as illustrated by the fact that he recruited one of his friends from high school who used to work in the orchards in Fitchburg to join in the fun.  Illustrating the power of our volunteers and how we grow through word of mouth.

Please join us in congratulating Jim Sicard for his continuing to support of both locations and for all of the hours that he volunteers.  His impact on both the volunteers that he works with and his efforts as part of the Wednesday Harvard volunteer group is immeasurable and we truly appreciate him for his amazing gift of time.  Thanks Jim, we could not do it without you!

Read the rest of the August 2016 Sprout!

July 2016 Volunteer of the Month

Sarah Moschini

sarah2

Let us introduce you to Sarah Moschini, our July Volunteer of the Month. Sarah first visited the farm as a 10-year-old with her church. She says that she volunteered for an hour and remembers a lot about that day. She describes the fact that it was a treat to be able to come when usually only the older children came out to volunteer. She also remembers a really friendly Team Leader or Intern working with the group while they harvested cukes.

Fast forward almost seven years and we have had the distinct pleasure of having Sarah as a volunteer again. This time however she has significantly increased her involvement. If you visit the farm you are likely to see her volunteering for almost forty hours a week! While she was looking for something to keep her occupied during the summer her dad suggested CHP and even did her the favor of dropping her off on her first day. Her first impression was that everyone was nice and welcoming and an even bigger impression when our Team Leader Linda worked with her that day. “It was a “super” fun day and Linda taught me a lot” is the way that Sarah describes it.  This sparked an interest in Sarah to learn to become a Team Leader and she quickly mastered that role and has graduated to leading groups on her own!

Sarah is a rising junior at Whitinsville Christian School and if you ask her how it is going she will rave about the fact that she learns something new every day. The skills that she describes developing will all help her as she plots her future. She is proud of the fact that she has been able to apply her naturally outgoing personality to helping others. She has learned through some challenges in communication and organization with groups and come out with stronger skills and a better ability to lead. Then there is that weed whacking…Sarah is hoping her parents don’t find out that she has mastered that skill (just kidding).

So please join us in congratulating Sarah for her volunteer work in support of Community Harvest Project and as our Volunteer of the Month for July. Her drive and determination has put her in the driver’s seat as one of our newest Team Leaders and we are lucky to have her. Congratulations Sarah, we could not do the work we do without great people like you!

Read the rest of the July 2016 Sprout!

June 2016 Volunteer of the Month

Douglas High School National Honor Society and Dudley Middle School National Junior Honor SocietyVOTM

As everyone already knows New England has a long history of farming traditions. Some of the earliest cultivated crops in the Americas were actually grown right on this hill by the Hassanamisco Nipmucs. With that in mind we here at Community Harvest Project really enjoy when we can cultivate traditions of our own. Whether it is a repeat visit of a school group, the comradery that our interns create over the summer months or hosting two great events annually we really like our traditions here on the farm.

This months “Volunteer of the Month” is actually two groups that we have cultivated tradition with, so much so that they now are a key part of our Plantapalooza Event. The Douglas High School National Honor Society and the Dudley Middle School National Junior Honor Society have been regular volunteers for the past several years. In their roles at our Plantapalooza Event these students can be found helping our supporters carry plants to the checkout area, staffing checkout, helping people put their plants in their vehicles and other assorted tasks. If that is not enough for one day they also rotate through planting in the fields and help us with a smooth and seamless cleanup. All of this hard work is done with great energy and enthusiasm as they connect their work to the cause of helping neighbors in need. With their all in approach they help us to ensure a great experience for everyone that visits the farm that day. We received numerous accolades from both volunteers and shoppers about what a great team we have working and supporting the event. With their effort year in year out we have been able to continue to grow Plantapalooza into the area’s biggest and best plant sale.

So for our Volunteer of the Month we would like to applaud and thank the amazing students from the Douglas High School National Honor Society and the Dudley Middle School National Junior Honor Society for all of their efforts. In addition, none of this would be possible without great teachers leading the charge. Thanks to Todd Babola from Douglas High and Kelly Bonner from Dudley Middle School for making this all happen.    The continuing support and outstanding service of these students, parents and staff to Community Harvest Project is greatly appreciated!

Read the rest of the June 2016 Sprout!