One of the most powerful lessons I have learned through my experiences farming is about interconnectedness. Becoming more connected to land naturally makes me more aware of cycles; of seasons, of months, of life and death, and how these are reflected in my own individual energetic levels as well as those around me in my community and the world at large. 

There is a slow surge of energy as spring first approaches. Once the snow begins to melt we sense it is time to start planning, to start baby seeds and mentally prepare for the season to come. Next comes the huge push to prepare the land, and when it’s finally warm enough, to fill the earth with plants. To weed, weed, and weed some more, in order to give our crops the best chance to thrive and grow strong. Once the wildflowers begin to bloom, it’s only a short time until that overwhelming moment when everything is ready to harvest — when the days are long and warm and abundant. 

Then comes the slow down with the harvest of long term crops and plans for preserving food for the upcoming winter. The days begin to shorten and we begin to think about resting, bundling up for cold nights, reflecting on the previous season, and thinking about our successes and how to adapt and refocus for the next season. Rinse and repeat.

Sungold and Cherry Tomatoes being harvested in Vershire, VT.

In the thick of the season

The time and energy spent with our hands in the earth has brought us to this luscious moment of harvest. So far this season, ShiftMeals GrowTeams have had over 100 pairs of hands, in 7 different gardens and farms throughout Vermont, helping to get us to get to where we are. As we reach this moment of abundance in the season, I want to take a moment to reflect on all the work that has been done so far. What is the impact of growing this food for ourselves and our communities? Where is all this food going? 

Our goal with the GrowTeam Program was to empower people to grow their own food and provide them with access to fresh produce during the growing season. Each member of the GrowTeam community has access to either harvest their own vegetables or receive a CSA share for the season through our community partners. Each garden and farm has created their own unique models of distribution to help feed their members and communities based on the different scales of their project. This creative, community-powered food distribution is especially valuable this year, as the emergency food system is seeing more demand than ever before.

Our GrowTeam Farm Partners

Our GrowTeams at VYCC in Richmond, and the People’s Farm at the Intervale Center in Burlington, both work to support large CSA programs. VYCC’s Health Care Share provides over 400 doctor prescribed CSA shares to those with diet related illness or to folks who face food insecurity. These shares get distributed weekly to different hospitals and doctors offices throughout Vermont. The Fair Share CSA through the Intervale Center provides vegetable shares for over 200 low income households. The Fair Share, a traditionally fully gleaned CSA share, is being supplemented this season by the GrowTeam working at the People’s Farm where they are  able to provide a more bountiful and well rounded share than ever before by supporting the ability for the farm by planning what will be in each CSA share in advance!

GrowTeam members at The People’s Farm

The four other GrowTeam sites operate on more collective models where the priority of the gardens are to feed themselves and then come up with sources of distribution based on the needs of their communities. 

Collective Community Garden Partners

The Northstar Collective, formed from our GrowTeam at The Center for Grassroots Organizing in Marshfield, is a mission-driven collective that addresses racial justice and food sovereignty in Vermont. Every Monday they deliver veggies to Migrant Justice to be distributed among Vermont migrant farmworkers and to their local food bank.

The Co-op Victory Garden, a collaboration between Vermont Community Garden Network and ShiftMeals at the Tommy Thompson Community Garden at the Intervale in Burlington, has a close relationship with Feeding Chittenden, where they donate excess produce through Plant For The People, a new Burlington City initiative.

In the Upper Valley, our GrowTeam at Broad Acres Farm, located at Shire Beef in Vershire, created a 9,000 square foot permanent bed community garden space. Besides inviting all in the community to participate in the harvest, they have donated food to Willing Hands, an organization that redistributes gleaned produce, Capstone Community Action, WISE, Helping Hands and the Chester Food Shelf. They are also working with Thetford school meals as well as getting their produce to migrant dairy workers in partnership with Dartmouth College.

GrowTeam site – Broad Acres in Vershire, VT

ShiftMeals also partnered with Vermont Land Trust to start a community garden in Newport, Vermont at Bluffside Farm. Thanks to the hard work of our GrowTeams and incredible local support we were able to quickly prepare and plant a ¼ acre garden with all donated vegetable starts! Any extra produce gleaned from this garden will go to the Northwoods After School program and Northeast Kingdom Community Action.

Our community partners at VYCC and The Center for Grassroots Organizing are both participating with the Abenaki Land Link Project this season. In partnership with the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk- Abenaki Nation, NOFA-VT, and Rooted in Vermont, farmers were provided with indiginous seeds and dedicated space to grow and harvest these crops for Abenaki citizens. Participants in this project are growing Koasek/Calais mix and Calais flint corn, true cranberry, skunk, and Mohawk beans, and Algonquin squash.

It has been truly inspiring to see the impact of our GrowTeam members getting their hands into the earth and creating their own connections to the cycles of growth, both on the land and in their communities. What started as a small seed of an idea has grown and flourished into a movement. We have been delighted to see more and more Vermonters growing food to feed themselves and their communities. After all, food tastes much better when it’s grown with love. Thank you to all of the GrowTeam members, community partners, and everyone who has supported us along the way.

– Sammy