Back in March, with so many individuals unemployed due to the pandemic, our team began to think more holistically about how to provide both food and work to those experiencing food and job insecurity. Through the creation of GrowTeams, we were able to invite Vermonters onto local farms and gardens to learn how to grow food for themselves and communities, and support farms facing labor shortages due to COVID-19. 

So, how did we do?

Beginning in May, we quickly established GrowTeam sites across Vermont, from Vershire to Richmond and Burlington to Newport. Some of these sites were production farms where GrowTeams jumped in to support the production of a 400 person CSA share.  Other sites were smaller, with a couple being 1000 square foot garden plots.

No matter the size, each GrowTeam member learned how to grow food and walked away with more fresh produce than they alone could eat. 

GrowTeam member plants cucumber starts in late May at VYCC in Richmond, VT

Over the course of the season ShiftMeals was able to….

  • Get over 100 pairs of hands into the earth at 7 different farms and gardens across the state of Vermont. 
  • Receive plant starts and seed donations from 17 different farms!
  • Support 16 different community partners using produce to provide fresh food and meals to their communities.
  • Host 8 educational workshops for GrowTeam members from medicine making to pickling and hot sauce making!
  • Help grow and harvest over 50,000 pounds of produce!

When reflecting back on their experiences, GrowTeam members explained how they feel more empowered to feed themselves and have changed the way they purchase, eat, and connect to food. Many noted that the greatest benefit of being part of a GrowTeam was the knowledge they gained from their incredible garden mentors, the community they built, and being able to work with purpose and intention during these uncertain times. 

GrowTeam members at the Co-op Victory Garden in Burlington, VT

“I want to grow my own food forever, and teach others. I feel 100% more comfortable growing food. I eat cleaner and pay more attention to what I am eating.” – Sharon Newman, VCGN GrowTeam member

As the GrowTeam Manager, this has been such a unique opportunity to see and work so closely with different sites, using different growing practices, operating at different scales, and working towards different goals. To be able to individually cater to each site, create connection, provide custom resources, and derive successes from a concept that was completely dynamic and innovative allowed me to think about Vermont’s food system in a completely new way. 

ShiftMeals GrowTeams were hugely successful in acquiring resources and inspiration for new community gardens, as well as getting more people than ever before involved in growing their own food!

GrowTeam member at Broad Acres in Vershire, VT

As we transition into winter and plant seeds for the future, I am left with lots of questions like…

  • How can we share resources and learn from each other’s models, mistakes, and successes?
  • How do we make collectivism and mutual aid more normalized?
  • How do we best support community food needs?  
  • What are the infrastructure needs? 
  • How is the demand for local food changing? 

… and I am ready and inspired to come together as a community to address these big questions, and work towards creating a just, safe, and healthy Vermont food system.

Have any thoughts about these big questions or any other ideas related to collaborative food production? Send me an email at slevine@skinnypancake.com

In community,

Sammy LeVine, GrowTeam Manager

Download and read the full ShiftMeals GrowTeams 2020 Report below.