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Cultivating Growth: My First Few Weeks at Grow Food Northampton

A first month reflection by Abby Bradley-Gilbert.

The sun was beating down as we walked past stands laden with colorful flowers, fruits and vegetables. My tank top was plastered to my back and my arms were slick with sweat by the time we made our way downtown to Grow Food Northampton’s Tuesday Market.

Niki, my supervisor and Grow Food Northampton’s Communications Manager, bought me an iced tea from Song Sparrow Farm. She introduced me to Tony who was packing mason jars of tea into buckets filled with ice to chill. I remarked that I was looking forward to telling stories about the local farms.

Despite the heat, I was moved by how much the market had to offer and the effort everyone put into organizing this community event.

Embarking on a new journey with a community-driven organization can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. In my case, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of learning and growth as I started my journey with Grow Food Northampton (GFN). This remarkable non-profit organization, based in Northampton, Massachusetts, is dedicated to creating a resilient, sustainable, and equitable local food system. At the beginning of September, I began my service term through TerraCorps as Community Engagement Coordinator for GFN. As a newcomer to GFN, I want to share my initial experiences and impressions of this vibrant community and the inspiring work they do.

The Welcoming Community

From the very beginning, I was struck by the warmth and openness of the GFN community. My fellow GFN staff, the food access team, community members, and farmers have all made me feel welcome so far as I begin my service term. This sense of belonging has been instrumental in easing my transition into this new role and environment.

The Power of Collaboration

One of the first things that became evident during my time at GFN is the power of collaboration. The organization thrives on partnerships and collaboration with local farmers, businesses, and community members. This spirit of cooperation is a driving force behind GFN’s success in addressing food insecurity and building a more sustainable food system.

Getting My Hands Dirty

Working with GFN isn’t just about sitting in an office; it’s about getting your hands dirty–literally. I’ve had the opportunity to work on their beautiful community farm, Grow Food Northampton Organic Community Garden and the Giving Garden. My third week consisted of working in the greenhouse, planting kale and chives, watering, lifting, and moving. I look forward to the continuation of planting seeds, tending to vegetables, and harvesting fresh produce.

A view of the garden.

Educational Initiatives

One of the aspects of GFN that truly excites me is their commitment to education. This fall, I will be assisting with field trips at the Community Farm with Education Manager, Molly Aronson and Land and Community Educator, Ellena Baum. All third-fifth graders in the Northampton Public Schools will attend. With a background in childcare and camp counseling, I look forward to interacting with the students and helping to teach them about sustainable farming practices.

Food Access Programs

Another vital component of GFN’s work is their dedication to food access for all. The organization runs a Free Mobile Farmers Market program that brings fresh, locally grown produce and farm products to underserved neighborhoods. Loading full boxes of fruits and vegetables into the truck is satisfying and the mobile market distribution is work that makes a difference. It is also a great opportunity to make connections with community members and volunteers. This program is a shining example of GFN’s commitment to equity and accessibility in the local food system.

 

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Left: The layout of the Free Mobile Farmers Market outside of Meadowbrook Apartments. Center: A GFN staff member puts food on the table. Right: A seasonal selection of fruits and vegetables.

Community Engagement

GFN doesn’t just work for the community; they work with the community. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the genuine passion and involvement of local residents in shaping the future of their food system. Whether it’s attending community meetings, participating in volunteer workdays, or simply chatting with neighbors at Tuesday Market, the level of engagement is truly remarkable.

My first few weeks at Grow Food Northampton have been an eye-opening and enriching experience. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a diverse group of individuals who are united by a shared goal: to create a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient local food system. The warmth of the GFN community, the power of collaboration, and the tangible impact on food access have all left an indelible mark on me.

As I look ahead to my continued journey with Grow Food Northampton, I am excited about the possibilities and positive change we can create together. Stay tuned for more updates on my adventures in the world of sustainable agriculture and community engagement and empowerment with GFN.

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