Community Harvest Project combines community and fresh produce


Spring is here. Crops are starting to sprout and with that volunteers venture out to the Community Harvest Project farm in North Grafton, MA

Located in North Grafton, fifteen acres of farmland produce fresh fruits and vegetables for food banks, mainly in the Worcester area.

Unlike a typical farm, Community Harvest is powered by the good hearts of local volunteers.

The one who oversees the volunteer programs is Wayne McAuliffe.

“On a normal year from April to October, we will see around 5,000 volunteers working on some aspect of the property,” McAuliffe said.

All produce from the farm is sent to food banks around Worcester. McAuliffe stated that in 2021 over 250,000 pounds of fresh produce was grown there in Grafton.

“Those who are not familiar with food banks may be surprised just how many people rely on food relief. Especially the need for fresh vegetables,” McAuliffe said.

Tori Buerschaper, the head director of Community Harvest Project, loves bringing local schools to be a part of the community experience. The hands-on farm experience is usually a new one for a lot of the students.

“Kids have a larger influence on the world than we think, so getting them thinking about food insecurity and incorporating fresh produce in their diets can really make an impact,” Buerschaper said.

Besides having kids on the farm, many college and religious groups are able to assist in other aspects of running the property.

Manager of farm operations, Dave Johnson, speaks on the importance of volunteers in the success of the organization.

“There is a lot more to running a farm property than just planting and harvesting. We need help sorting and moving produce, setting up irrigation systems, and cleaning equipment,” Johnson said.

The Community Harvest Project was first started in Hopkinton in the 1970s by Bill and Rose Abbott. In 2001, the project moved to North Grafton and has flourished into the movement it is today.

“Bill Abbott had a saying, ‘A farm has two crops: the produce that is donated and the volunteers whose lives are changed by their experience,’” Buerschaper said.

In 2014, they were generously gifted 75 acres of land, 30 of which are used as an orchard in the town of Harvard. The orchard grows ten variates of apples and six variates of peaches.

“Our orchard has been huge in expanding the amount of hunger relief partners we have. Fresh fruit is something a lot of us take for granted, so it is great to help out families who may not be able to get any,” Buerschaper said.

Community Harvest Project now partners with 23 food organizations; from food banks to religious programs, to the Stone Soup Kitchen.

The farm is closed to volunteers from November to March, but the work continues. The team is busy writing grants and fundraising at events for the coming year.

“We are very thankful for the kind families and local businesses that help fund Community Harvest… not everyone has the time to help out at the farm, but we are just as grateful for a donation,” Buerschaper said.