GRAFTON, Mass. - For the past year, Paul Grady has been in the comfortable position of having almost too many volunteers at the Community Harvest Project.
This year, he faces a challenge: four more acres of crops will be added to the farm, based at Grafton's Brigham Hill Community Barn. That means a total of 12.5 acres of food destined for the Worcester County Food bank -- and that will require a heck of a lot of volunteers.
"We shooting for 9,000 volunteer visits this year," Grady said. "It shouldn't be hard to hit because we're getting a lot of interest. There really are a lot of people who want to come here."
Volunteers are considered the "second crop" for the Communtiy Harvest Project, which annually sees volunteer groups from around the country in its fields. Volunteers plant the seeds in the greenhouse, transplant the new plants into the fields, weed, care for and harvest all crops, which are delivered weekly to the Worcester County Food Bank to be distributed to food pantries and soup kitchens around Central Mass.
Last year was another record-breaking year: 180,000 lbs. of produce harvested. This year is already shaping up to be another record-breaker, thanks to the donation of the additional four acres.
"This all belongs to David White, one of our board members," Grady explained as he piloted a tractor onto the field, located around the corner on Brigham Hill Road. "It's been a hayfield up until now."
The expanded acreage will also allow the farm to experiment with some new crops in response to requests from food banks. The farm will now grow potatoes, onions, turnips, beets and cucumbers.
"They said they were overwhelmed with the peppers last year," Grady said. "There was a lot of requests for more of the root crops."
With the mild winter, farm manager Ken Dion is anticipating that the ground may be ready for crops about three weeks ahead of schedule, Grady said.
"We're going to get the cabbages and broccoli in soon," he said. Groups have already started booking spots for April and May.
With that in mind, on Wednesday the farm will be hosting team leader training at 6:30 p.m. at the farm.
"Team leaders are central to the work of our farm," Grady said. "We have a lot of volunteers come through here daily, and they're the ones who keep things running smoothly in the fields."
Those who attend team leader training aren't obligated to become one this summer, Grady stressed.
"We don't want to scare anyone off," he said. "Anyone who just wants to learn more about it can come."
The Community Harvest Project is located at the Brigham Hill Community Farm, 37 Wheeler Road, Grafton. For information on how to volunteer at the Community Harvest Project, email email@example.com.