A Letter from Chip – We squashed the record…and just in time too!!!
Breaking news! If you haven’t heard already, we recently broke the all-time harvest record here at America’s Grow-a-Row (AGAR). It was an electric moment when we realized that 225 volunteers from Affinity Federal Credit Union not only surpassed the prior milestone of 144,000 pounds set a few years ago but harvested well beyond that amount to the tune of 225,000 pounds of winter squash picked in only two hours! That’s more than six 53-foot tractor trailers packed from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. It’s fair to say that the record was “squashed”…by the winter squash harvest, so to speak. And it’s timely too, since winter squash is a very popular part of many Thanksgiving meals, whether as a side dish or in the form of a dessert. Interestingly enough, according to the Illinois Extension Office, winter squash was part of the first Thanksgiving feast back in 1621, and that tradition still continues today. As such, we plant an ample amount of this particular crop each season.
What transpired a few weeks ago was a monumental feat to be celebrated for sure, but it’s critically important that we remain grounded and never lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, here at AGAR it’s not about the pounds but it’s always about the people. And those people of course are the ones we serve and educate, in addition to those who help us in the fields and who support our efforts. As I continue to reflect over the past 20 years since we started AGAR back in 2002, I find that some of the most memorable harvests are not only the biggest volume events but also some of the much smaller ones. I remember in particular a very small group of volunteers from Johnson & Johnson who came out to help us harvest winter squash in 2010. It was a cold, rainy day, and they worked exceptionally hard, especially given the small number of people in the group. I was leading the team alone, and the pressure was on to pick all the squash that morning because a hard frost was on its way and we did not want to sacrifice any of the squash and have it go to waste.
The group was scheduled to work until lunch and then be on their way. They stayed at the farm to have a well-deserved break and eat their lunch, planning to return to the office and finish their workday afterward. And given the weather and unfavorable conditions, I’m sure they were more than happy to do so! After thanking them for their help, and knowing that they had commitments in the afternoon, I told them that since there was still some more to harvest I was heading back up to the fields to finish. I thanked them again for their help and told them that we hoped to see them again the next season. I knew the team had a strict time schedule to adhere to, and I did not want to interfere with that, given the sacrifice of time they had already made that day.
So off I went up the hill, all alone with a pickup truck and what seemed to be an endless amount of empty crates just waiting to be filled. And then a scene that I still vividly remember as if it was yesterday played out, and it still inspires me today. While on my hands and knees in the field, I saw a line of dirty, wet, and tired volunteers who had laid it all out on the field earlier now coming up the hill. I saw them from the corner of my eye and tried to hold back a huge smile, until they came up to me and said, “We decided as a group that we are not leaving you to harvest all of this on your own.” At that point the smile came out in full force and I remember getting really, really pumped, and we all agreed we could get through the harvest in a timely manner. And we did.
That event serves as a reminder even 12+ years later that not only do we celebrate the big wins of a massive harvest, but we also recognize and equally value the big wins of smaller harvests too, and every other one in between. That’s what AGAR is and has always been about…many people of all different ages and skillsets coming together from all different walks of life to support a common cause – helping those in need. After 20 years, what has remained constant, and will not change, is our commitment to fill both the hearts and bellies of close to 100,000 people each and every year through our program and efforts.
As we approach Thanksgiving, the list in my heart of what I’m most thankful for will once again include a special place for all of YOU in addition to my faith, family, and friends. My most sincere thanks to each one of you who has played a role in getting us to where we are today and for helping the thousands of families and individuals we work with who are faced with food insecurity and hunger across New Jersey, the mid-Atlantic region, and beyond. May God continue to bless you, your families, and those we serve.
On behalf of the entire AGAR team, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you in the fields next year!
President and Founder