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by Hedi Charde, CCHRC Member

Awarded every two years by the Concord Carlisle Human Rights Council (CCHRC), the Climate for Freedom Award is presented to a local group or organization that works to foster a climate of freedom in its work and mission.

Gaining Ground’s mission is simple: “We grow food and give it away to people who need it. For free.” This straightforward approach allows Gaining Ground to focus its energies on what matters most to them: providing high-quality, organic produce to those who cannot otherwise afford it. And they give away everything they grow, with essentially no waste, making them a model for the environment and for a modern day farm working for hunger relief.

According to Joe Rigali, president of Gaining Ground’s Board of Directors, the farm is unique in what it does. “We grow organic produce and it all goes directly to our recipients, who we have worked with before planting begins to determine their needs,” asserts Joe. “They get the very best of what we grow, allowing all recipients access to high quality, organic produce. And they feel really good about having that freedom to select wonderful fruit and vegetables.”

Gaining Ground began operating in 1994, on a small plot of private land in Concord. In 1999, they established their current home, a large farm adjacent to the Thoreau birthplace home on Virginia Road. They also continue to manage the reproduction kitchen garden at The Old manse in Concord. According to their website, they manage approximately 20 acres of land and actively cultivate five acres each growing season.

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These days, many make efforts to “shop local” and support our local communities, businesses and services. Gaining Ground’s focus could not be more local: produce from its gardens goes to shelters, food pantries and meal programs throughout Greater Boston and Eastern massachusetts. most of their produce is consumed within 20 miles of the farm and within 24 hours of harvest. Some groups use the produce to prepare a meal for those in need; others give it away in their food pantries. A program manager evaluates the recipients’ needs and works together with them to get them what they need and can use. Some local organizations supported by Gaining Ground include The Bedford Food pantry, House of Hope (a homeless shelter in Lowell), Open Table and The Sudbury Food pantry.

Without the incredible community of volunteers we are lucky enough to have, we could not do what we do.

Rigali credits the many volunteers at Gaining Ground for helping the organization work toward their mission of hunger relief. “Without the incredible community of volunteers we are lucky enough to have, we could not do what we do,” he says.

There are more than 1,000 volunteers every growing season, from elementary school children to Boy Scouts and the elderly; from athletes to people with disabilities; and everyone in between. Rigali adds that “volunteers of all abilities are welcomed at the farm and everyone has real, meaningful work, from planting to weeding to harvesting. Volunteers power the farm and in turn learn organic farming practices. And the farmers themselves are natural teachers who are deeply invested in making the volunteer experience as rich as possible.”

In addition to their organic growing practices and hunger relief efforts, Gaining Ground is working to increase its local impact by partnering with other community organizations.

One of their most exciting new projects took place this summer, when the farm teamed up with project Bread and Head Start in Lowell for 16 weeks. Each week, fresh produce was delivered to the Head Start site, where a farmer’s marketlike stand was set up for children and their parents to select fresh vegetables to bring home. In addition, a project Bread chef was on site to provide cooking demonstrations, answer questions about the week’s produce and excite families about eating fresh vegetables and incorporating them into their home cooking. Rigali says this pilot program was a big success and hopes it will continue next year.

To learn more about Gaining Ground, or to volunteer, please visit:
www.gainingground.org

photos courtesy of Gaining Ground