Initially following the Twin Villages model, which operates under the nonprofit Damariscotta River Association, John began reaching out to existing local nonprofit organizations in hopes of finding one that would allow the project to operate under its nonprofit status (for the first year at least). He received lots of helpful information and encouragement during this process, but the project wasn’t a good fit for any of these organizations for a variety of reasons, so the decision was made to start a brand new nonprofit, and fast. They knew the timeline would now be very tight to launch for the 2017 growing season, but they didn’t want to wait until 2018. Fortunately, both John and Patty had nonprofit experience, and Leah Bennett, a business associate of John’s and the treasurer of another nonprofit, was available to help John with the nonprofit application process.
John quickly reached out to several people who he and Patty thought might be interested in serving on the board of this new nonprofit, and they were delighted when twelve people responded positively. Meanwhile, Theda worked with the Merrymeeting Gleaners to get their assistance in determining what vegetables the smaller, and often undersupplied, local food banks and pantries needed most, and to make a plan with them for their help with both the harvesting and the transportation of the harvest.
Between mid-March and mid-April 2017, three long meetings were held involving the board and staff during which many ideas were discussed and refined, bylaws were created, board officers were elected, a budget was approved, and the project was named. By late April, Growing to Give* had become an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a strong board, an experienced staff, and a detailed plan to grow and donate approximately two tons of veggies during the 2017 pilot season, which they did.
In 2018, with the help of a huge increase in hours donated by a wide range of volunteers and partners (especially the Merrymeeting Gleaners), Growing to Give was able to quadruple vegetable production over 2017, and then production in 2019 was almost as big as 2018. As a result, over its first three growing seasons, Growing to Give grew more than 35,000 pounds of organic vegetables (on about a half-acre), and donated them to neighbors in need through over 20 local food access sites. At the same time, Growing to Give hosted some wonderful community-building fundraising events, expanded the use of biochar across all fields, and welcomed many hundreds of volunteers and visitors – who learned about food insecurity, healthy food, biochar, electric farm equipment, and other climate-friendly farming practices.
In late 2019 Growing to Give received a major grant from the Windhover Foundation that is enabling another major expansion – with more land under production, more hoop houses, more storage space, a new portable seedling and Coolbot trailer, and more biochar vegetable trials. As a result, by the end of the 2020 growing season, total donations since inception exceeded the 50,000 pound mark, and starting in 2021, Growing to Give will be able to grow and donate well over 20,000 pounds of organic vegetables each year. This type of operation, and those amounts of food, of course, are far from a systemic solution to food insecurity, but there is also no doubt that Growing to Give is making a real difference in our local area.
In addition, efforts began in 2020 to significantly increase the use of no-till farming and perennial crops – practices that would have been more difficult to incorporate in previous years. And beyond these “tangible” improvements, there is one other thing that seems to be growing very well at Growing to Give – a strong sense of community that stretches across many kinds of difference. In that vein, Growing to Give is supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and is re-doubling its efforts to connect more deeply and meaningfully with Black, Indigenous, and all people of color in the wider community.
In terms of the organization’s finances, some start-up funding for the first four years of operation was pledged and provided by co-founders Patty and John, but 2020 marked the end of that start-up funding, so fortunately, other funding sources have been growing steadily since the beginning, and by the end of the 2020 the “co-founder start-up funding” total will be down to less than 20% of total revenue since inception (in 2017). Unfortunately, the end of this start-up funding happened around the same time as the arrival of the pandemic, which forced Growing to Give to make big changes to its budget in 2020. The initial 2020 budget confidently projected a large percentage of operating income would come from three big fundraising events, including repeats of the very successful Farm-to-Table Dinners and FarmYard Jams, and related business sponsorships. Covid, of course, forced the cancellation of these events, but a new event, a multi-faceted art auction, was quickly conceived and planned. Under the great leadership of Sandi Konta, this event was a tremendous success, but it couldn’t fully replace the revenue lost from the cancelled events. Fortunately, in late 2020 Growing to Give received a grant from the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program that did replace this “lost” revenue, enabling the year to end with a balanced budget. Of course, fundraising events may be similarly impacted by Covid for some time, but with the continued support of volunteers and donors, Growing to Give is well-positioned to weather the Covid storm and continue to serve our neighbors in need.
For additional chapters to this story, please check out the news section of this website, and our Facebook page. We hope you will get involved with Growing to Give and help us write the next chapter of our story!
*Growing to Give is an authorized DBA of the nonprofit Center for a Green Future, which is incorporated in Maine.