By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
North Grafton – The nonprofit Community Harvest Project (CHP) located at 37 Wheeler Road in North Grafton doesn’t just have rich garden soil. It is also rich in volunteers, who work the fields during the growing season in order for fresh produce to be donated to those in need.
CHP’s Volunteer Program Manager Wayne McAuliffe said that volunteers do everything on the farm and it is due to their efforts and time that the farm is able to carry out its mission.
“The need for food is everywhere,” said McAuliffe. “Many are one paycheck away from crisis. People are surprised how much need there is for food relief.”
In 2017, over 270,000 pounds of fresh, local grown produce was grown at CHP, which benefitted the Worcester Food Pantry and other partners serving central and eastern Massachusetts.
McAuliffe said CHP has a diverse group of volunteers of all ages, and farming experience is not required. Although many civic, religious, corporate and school groups sign up to volunteer, individuals and families are encouraged to volunteer as well.
“Teaching kids young what it means to be a part of a community means helping the community,” said McAuliffe.
Volunteers gain an appreciation for the difficulty of growing their own food and an awareness of the challenges that exist for those living on a lower social and economic ladder.
Grafton resident Laura Coughlin has volunteered with CHP since 2003 and is now one of the longest serving volunteer team leaders. In that role, she guides other volunteers every step of the way during their shift.
Coughlin, also a nurse, is concerned about obesity being the number one health problem in the country.
“One in three kids is obese,” she said. “Some people do not have means to buy healthy, nutritious food. Sugar and processed food is what’s wrong with diets in this country.”
Her reward for her work at CHP is to pay it forward and make a small dent in the obesity rate through education.
Westborough High School junior Bethany Woodcock was introduced to CHP while a student at Mill Pond School and decided to get more involved as a volunteer team leader in high school. She estimated she volunteered 100 hours last summer.
“I genuinely enjoy it,” she said. “No matter what you do on the farm, you’re making an impact on someone’s life.”
“There’s something so special to physically do the planting and tending of the gardens and knowing it helps other people,” said Clark University senior and CHP Volunteer Team Leader Jenny Rubin. “Just come and sign in; there’s always something to do.”
McAuliffe said this season CHP will introduce the growing of highly nutritious greens, such as kale, spinach and lettuce. New ways to limit pests and decrease the use of plastic are also in the plans.
More information on CHP and how to become a volunteer can be found at www.community-harvest.org.