Giving Back: A Harvest Dinner

By Jennifer Wolcott, November/December 2009

Not far from where the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving, Alice Waters visits a farm that shares the harvest in an unusual way.

Wieloch is the first to admit that Gaining Ground, as a nonprofit organization, is in a financially unique position. Situated in an affluent community with a rich agricultural history, her farm is blessed by a savvy fundraising team that has been successful in drumming up generous grants and donations from individuals and corporations that care deeply about helping to preserve Concord’s farming tradition and giving to those less fortunate.

The staff at Gaining Ground includes five paid employees, says Wieloch (one of two year-rounders at the farm), for what seems like “an endless amount of work.” But it’s worth every minute, she adds. “Our mission is huge,” she says, “but as important as it is, this is also a very playful place, where we try to incorporate fun into every task, and if a volunteer accidentally weeds out half of our turnips, that’s OK.”

It’s that combination of joyful collaboration and serious intent that makes Gaining Ground such a draw for volunteers. “If something is well done and done with a sense of humanity, whether in New Orleans, a vacant lot in Brooklyn or valuable farmland in Concord,” says Waters, “people feel hopeful and they want to contribute.”

For now, that sense of hope and humanity is centered around Thanksgiving and preparing for that heartwarming final delivery.

“Thanksgiving symbolizes the ultimate act of growing food and then offering it to people who don’t have much,” says Waters, adding: “Not just any food, but food that is truly beautiful, nourishing and real.”

For Waters herself, Thanksgiving is all about going back to the land, literally. She traditionally celebrates with friends who share her love of fresh food, even foraging for a meal. So before sitting down at the table, she will head into the woods, looking for wild mushrooms or another nearby treasure to complement the rest of the feast, which typically includes Brussels sprouts, acorn squash, a heritage turkey and geese from one of her favorite local farms. Waters will likely make her Wild Mushroom Stuffing and, for dessert, her favorite Upside-Down Cranberry Cake. But even for this author of numerous cookbooks, it’s not the recipes that matter most.

“More important than any recipe or cooking method is the source of ingredients,” she says emphatically. “Where does it come from? That’s absolutely what counts most to me.”

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