A Letter from Chip – Do You Remember Me?
Do you remember me? That was a question presented to me by a young boy who recently came out to America’s Grow-a-Row through one of our partners, Bonnie Brae, a local residential and therapeutic program for boys in crisis. This young boy, along with some others from Bonnie Brae, was out to help harvest zucchini at our farm, and when he saw me the first thing he excitedly asked was if I remembered him from last year when they came out. Though I did not recall his name, I did remember him and that his group helped to pick corn. And a fine job they did too! I told him that I might not always remember everyone’s names, given that we have thousands of volunteers who help in the fields each year, but I’m usually spot on when it comes to remembering what they harvested and how much! After I told him I remembered that he picked a whole bunch of corn, he smiled and clearly got a kick out of our exchange. And quite frankly, so did I; it’s one of many memories that I know will stay with me.
This encounter made me think back to another one that I had several years ago. During the early days of America’s Grow-a-Row, I used to lead a group of boys from a local group home out to the fields at 5:30 a.m. to harvest produce. It was a reward for them to be able to come out to the farm and help harvest in the cool early summer mornings. A group of 7-10 boys would show up each time all ready to go, eager to harvest as much as possible and make a difference in the community and beyond. These boys were quite special. They worked incredibly hard and at the end of each harvest would ask, “Mr. Chip, Mr. Chip! How many pounds did we pick today?!” They loved it, and I was just as excited knowing that they would go home proud of their accomplishments, realizing that they mattered and that they played an important role in something much bigger.
One hot summer day I saw one of the boys who used to live at the group home at a local 4th of July Parade years after he’d come to the farm to harvest. Now a young man, he recognized me and ran over and said, “Mr. Chip, guess what?!” I was excited to hear what he had to say, particularly because I knew that he had faced rocky and challenging times in his youth. He said with a big smile that seemed wider than the cornfields we harvested together, “I’m living at my uncle’s farm and now I’m going to be a farmer too!” Beaming and filled with pride, he told me about the next chapter of his life that was full of hope and promise. I wonder if he knows how much that exchange meant to me and that I still remember him…and all the other boys from that group home as well as many, many other young people from underserved areas who we’ve hosted over the years.
As we are in the midst of our 20th season and have just surpassed 13 million pounds of produce donated since we started the program, there are so many stories, experiences, and memories that continue to bubble up at the most unexpected times. There are so many friends who have graced us with their presence and given so much of themselves, both physically and financially, to help us get to where we are today so we can serve the thousands upon thousands of individuals and families who are dealing with hunger and food insecurity. With an average of well over 9,000 volunteers and supporters each year, it’s impossible to remember everyone’s names of course, but I will always remember how gracious, generous, and giving you all are and have been. Thirteen million pounds – 52 million servings – of fresh produce is an incredible number, but behind that number are the incredible people who I will never, ever forget.
Do I remember you? Yes, I do…
Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. Have a great day and see you in the fields!
President and Founder