When you meet a local farmer capable of producing nearly 100,000 lbs of produce from just three acres of land, it’s pretty impressive. But when that grower is also wholeheartedly committed to sharing all that bounty - without selling a single veggie - you can be sure you’ve encountered something truly special.
In Gaining Ground, a nonprofit organic farm in Concord, MA, we’ve found just that - and we’re honored that Rimol hoop houses have been a part of all of their amazing achievements.
For over 25 years, Gaining Ground has become a widely-respected source for fresh, delicious, organically-grown produce, 100 percent of which is donated to local food pantries and shelters to help Eastern Massachusetts fight hunger across the region.
Thanks to a long heritage of farming knowledge, the help of their 2,500+ dedicated volunteers, and the protected growing environment of four Rimol Hoop Houses and a Rolling Thunder greenhouse, Gaining Ground has turned a few acres of historic land into some of the most productive farming space in the area. We checked in with Gaining Ground to see just how they do it, and what they plan to do to keep up the good work from here.
Fighting Hunger by Turning Passion Into Produce
Gaining Ground began with humble origins, originally designed as a small private garden on a private plot in Concord, MA back in 1994. Over time, the farm expanded, eventually moving to its current home adjacent to the birthplace of Henry David Thoreau, and growing to its current size of approximately 7 acres (with about three acres actively cultivated each growing season).
Over two and a half decades of growth, experience, and community input, things progressed rapidly at Gaining ground. From their first greenhouse in 2005, to the addition of their Rimol Hoop Houses in 2014, to their purchase of our Rolling Thunder mobile greenhouse in 2017, and now with the addition of two more Rimol Hoop houses this spring, Gaining Ground has seriously boosted their output on the same three acres of land - growing from just 35,000 lbs of food in 2013 to a full 99,000 lbs - on the same acreage - by 2018.
As a result, Gaining Ground has been able to provide significantly higher levels of fresh produce to their local communities - and that’s meant a lot for local food pantries. Often, local hunger-relief organizations around the Concord area can receive local produce in the morning, and get those veggies in the hands of families and individuals in need within just a few hours.
“Everyone wants fresh, healthy food in their diet - and for those battling hunger, the option to access fresh food can be huge,” said Amy Capofreddi, Executive Director at Gaining Ground. “Since all of our produce is donated to those in need, we are always trying to increase the amount and quality of produce we can provide, and the indoor growing spaces help us do just that.”
Thanks to the improvements in their growing practices, Gaining Ground has been able to make key connections with several well-known organizations, including:
- Providing fresh produce to Rosie’s Place, Boston’s longest-running women’s shelter, since 2015;
- Helping Concord’s Open Table add fresh-grown produce to the thousands of meals they serve annually;
- Donating thousands of pounds of produce earlier in the season and deeper into fall than ever before for Lowell-based Houses of Hope;
- Helping Bridge Boston Charter School give students the opportunity to see the growing process for themselves, and to connect over 300 economically and socially disadvantaged students to nutritious meals featuring fresh produce;
- ...and many more local recipients!
Through passion, dedication, and motivation to keep improving for the sake of the local community, Gaining Ground continues to exceed even their own output year after year - and that means more food on more tables for those most in need.
But what makes us so proud is knowing that Rimol has been able to be such a big part of this continued success - and it only takes one visit to Gaining Ground’s hoop houses and greenhouses to see how.
The Perfect Covered Space To Keep Growing
When limited growing space meets the constraints of the New England growing season, the result can be a serious challenge for farmers to keep crop levels consistent from year to year. But by integrating the right covered spaces into their growing process, Gaining Ground has not only met that challenge but exceeded it, producing more and more off the same acreage year after year.
Key to this success: their Rimol hoop houses, working in conjunction with their Rimol Rolling Thunder mobile greenhouse.
By utilizing these indoor spaces all throughout the year, Gaining Ground has been able to significantly stretch their growing season, decrease the threat from insects and other diseases, and actually increase the productivity of their plants season after season.
Extending The Growing Season
Any farmer in the northeast looking to get crops in the ground earlier in the year, and keep them in the ground later, must battle against winter. With the help of indoor growing spaces, Gaining Ground has accomplished this seamlessly - and the results have proven themselves.
Thanks to their four hoop houses, the team at Gaining Ground is able to start their seedlings as early as February, and is also able to overwinter greens and other hearty veggies to keep the fresh produce coming all through the winter. And although other growers might be wrapping up their final harvest around early October or November, Gaining Ground is able to keep their offerings fresh and lively almost until Christmas - and that can have a huge impact for pantries and shelters in need of fresh produce during the fall and winter months.
Plus, the consistent atmosphere inside the hoop houses and greenhouse actually make working on the farm easier for those getting their hands dirty. For Gaining Ground, that means keeping volunteers active and on the farm almost all year long - a major boon to their ability to harvest and provide produce to hunger-fighting organizations throughout the extended growing season.
Keeping Unwanted Invaders Out
One of the biggest hurdles for any outdoor farmer to clear is the battle against insects and disease - each of which can cause major damage to a farmer’s overall harvest year after year.
By utilizing indoor growing spaces within their hoop houses and greenhouse, Gaining Ground has managed to significantly reduce or outright eliminate the threat from insects. That translates to higher yields, better quality, and less time spent fighting infestations when they do occur.
“Last year, for example, we had our Rolling Thunder almost completely open - no doors, walls rolled up, and no insect screens up. Cucumber beetles came and did serious damage to our cucumbers that year,” said Doug Wolcik, Gaining Ground’s Farm Manager. “This year, we’ve outfitted the Rolling Thunder with everything - roll-up sides,ventilation, insect screening - and we haven’t had a single beetle bother our cucumbers. That turns into a big difference when harvest time arrives.”
Better Environment Brings Bigger Harvests
While it might seem obvious that removing the worst effects of insects, diseases, and cold weather might have a positive effect on a harvest, one benefit to indoor farming that can often be overlooked is the increase in productivity per plant that can be achieved under a greenhouse or hoop house - an increase that Gaining Ground has benefited from year after year.
The reason for this boost in their final harvest - bringing Gaining Ground’s year-end total up from 35,000 lbs in 2013 to 99,000 lbs in 2018 - is due to a wide combination of factors. Thanks to the protected environment within the hoop houses and greenhouse, plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and leafy greens are able to thrive in a consistently-hospitable growing environment. When the humidity, light levels, temperature, and ventilation are all carefully controlled, crops can more reliably thrive on a day-to-day basis.
Physical additions like trellises and purlins also give crops like tomatoes room to spread out and grow, which can be significantly more difficult to achieve when growing outdoors. The small size of the indoor space also allows Gaining Ground to experiment with no-till farming, a practice of leaving soil untilled and relatively undisturbed from season to season which has yielded significant increases in final yield. These small changes translate to major improvements at final harvest, and for Gaining Ground that means more fresh produce in front of more hungry individuals.
A Partnership We’re Proud Of
We get excited working with partners like Gaining Ground. Not only is the staff of farmers, administrators, and volunteers at Gaining Ground tirelessly passionate for what they do, but they’re also doing it all for a great cause - and we’re so happy to see our products utilized for so much good.
If you’re passionate about learning more about Gaining Ground, or getting involved with their work in Concord, MA, we’d recommend checking out their website. Their blog is an excellent source of information on their latest growing methods and how they meet challenges year after year, and interested individuals can easily get connected and get involved through their online Volunteer Sign-Up.
Interested in making your farm as successful as theirs? Get in touch with our Rimol team to learn more about adding hoop houses and other indoor cultivation spaces to your farm or garden - we’re always more than happy to get you started. Together, we grow!