Announcing our 2018 Annual Report

As we near the end of our tenth growing season, we’re thrilled to share our first full Annual Report. In the Backyard Growers 2018 Annual Report, you’ll find:

🍅 Details of our Community, Backyard, and School Garden Programs in 2018

🌽 Stories and data digging deeper into the impact of our Programs

🥒 Highlights from our three-year strategic vision

🥦 A look at how our volunteers and community partners make the work we do possible

🧅 A snapshot of our 2018 finances

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To request a printed copy of the report, email and we will happily pop it in the mail. Thanks to Designer Eunice Choi and Writer Kate Sutcliffe for donating their time to bring this Report to life.

Feeling inspired by what you’ve seen? Click to learn how you can donate your time or make a gift to support our work.

Meet Emily Brown, the 2019-2020 FoodCorps Service Member at Backyard Growers

We’re wishing FoodCorps Service Member Emily Brown a warm welcome to Gloucester! Emily has been working with Backyard Growers since the spring of 2019, when she joined our crew as an Urban Agriculture Intern and built many garden beds all over Cape Ann during an incredibly cold and wet spring. We’re thrilled to have her join us for the 2019-2020 academic year as a FoodCorps Service Member serving through Backyard Growers in Gloucester Public Schools, where she’ll be connecting kids to healthy food at school and helping them get the most out of our school garden programs.

Emily is a Massachusetts native who studied sustainable horticulture at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School while working at the Food Project, where she first learned about FoodCorps. After her graduation in 2018 and a year of self-discovery, Emily’s interest in food production on the North Shore guided her to Backyard Growers’ Urban Agriculture Internship. She was ultimately motivated to apply to be a FoodCorps Service Member for the 2019-2020 service year. Emily is looking forward to serving the Gloucester community in a deeper way with FoodCorps. When she’s not working, she enjoys playing guitar, and collecting things from the local woods for her nature-inspired art projects.

Even if it was just planting peas in Dixie cups with my cool elementary school science teacher, as a kid I remember how impactful and empowering it was when I had permission to get my hands dirty and grow something. Through Backyard Growers, Gloucester students have access to so many more experiences than just growing in Dixie cups, and I am so excited that as a FoodCorps Service Member I am able to take on the role of that (hopefully cool) teacher that gets them excited about getting their hands dirty and growing food within their community.

As we say hello to Emily, we must also say goodbye to 2018-2019 FoodCorps Service Member, Abby Johnstone. Abby was based at Backyard Growers and brought creativity, dedication, and smarts to her role. We miss her sunny presence in the office and in the field, but we know she’s out making waves in the world and enjoying her next adventure! Thank you, Abby!

Be sure to say hi to Emily and introduce yourselves when you see her working in the schools or outside in the Backyard Growers’ school gardens. We can’t wait to see the awesome contributions she continues to make to our community in her new role as FoodCorps Service Member!

Click here to learn more about FoodCorps or visit this page to explore Backyard Growers’ work in Gloucester Public Schools. Don’t live in Gloucester and want to bring our school garden programs to your community? Click here to learn how.

How to make your tomato plants thrive this summer

Tomatoes are a firm favorite among our gardeners! Delicious raw in fresh salads and salsas, slow-cooked in rich tomato sauces for pasta, or preserved as a treat to enjoy this winter, everyone wants to grow their own succulent tomatoes. But, especially once they heat peak fruiting season, tomato plants can get OVERWHELMING. Here are a few tips to help yours thrive this summer.

Pruning and Suckering

Why Prune? 

  • Pruning is good for your tomato plant - they’ll put more energy into growing fruit if they’re not distracted by pushing energy into leaf growth!

  • Tomatoes on the ground are susceptible to disease and getting snatched up by critters

  • You want AIR FLOW between your tomato leaves to stave off mildew and disease 

  • Pruning keeps things neat so you can easily access your tomatoes!

When/what to Prune

  • Prune throughout the summer

  • Prune indeterminate tomato varieties

    • These grow taller and wider, they require pruning 

    • Offer fruit over long period of time… 

    • Some typical varieties: Beefsteak, Black Crim, Martha Washington, German Johnson

  • Prune determinate varieties

    • More bush-like varieties, do not necessarily need to be pruned 

    • Ripen mostly at the same time 

    • Typical Varieties: Valley Girl, Celebrity 

How to Prune

  1. Find central stem (“lead”) - this is the main stem from which the rest of the plant stems off. It is the one you would use to trellis or stake up

    1. Sometimes there are multiple leads- if it is early enough, you can prune one or two off.  If they are too big, you can keep them both, but trellis them separately

  2. Find the first branch with flowers - all branches below this can be pruned, but nothing above it 

  3. To prune:  Use a harvest knife, kitchen knife, or scissors to cut the branch off at the stem.  Try to leave the smallest blemish possible- the larger the blemish, the more opportunity for disease and for the plant to have a hard time recovering. 

    1. You only want to prune off the main stem, never off the branches themselves 


  • “Suckers” are new low-fruiting branches forming at the intersection of a fruiting branch and the stem. While they will produce fruit, many people remove them to manage their tomatoes more easily. 

  • To Remove: if they are small, you can remove them easily by pinching them off.  If they have grown larger, you will want to remove them with scissors or a harvest/kitchen knife


Tomato Pests

Tomato Horn Worms

  • Caterpillars that prey on tomato plants in particular

  • Large and green with orange/red horn on bottom 

  • Often see them carrying their eggs on their backs 

  • Because of their size, it’s easiest to physically remove them 



  • Aphids are white/green bugs that suck moisture from the plant- extremely common with tomatoes, especially greenhouse tomatoes 

  • Ladybugs are their natural predators, so the more ladybugs, the better! 

  • Spray them off with a forceful hose or pinch off affected leaves/branches

(Photo: )

Tomato Diseases

Tobacco Mosaic Virus

  • Spread by insects or seeds or through touch by touching tomato plants while smoking cigarettes. 


  • Every year there is early blight and late blight. It travels by air among tomatoes, so once it comes to the area it is almost unavoidable 

  • Signs: Yellowed leaves with black spots, fast fruiting tomatoes 

  • How to care for them: blight unfortunately you almost cannot get rid of without intense chemical applications.  The fruits are still fine to eat, however, so enjoy them while they last! 

Blossom End Rot 

DIY Calcium Solution 

Take several egg shells, cook them over the stove until they start to toast up, crush them up and put them in some apple cider vinegar- leave room as they will bubble and fizz! Let them soak for a day or so, then take the apple cider vinegar solution and add it into a spray bottle with water (10:1 water to vinegar solution). Spray it directly on plant leaves.

Still have questions? Reach out to use at with your tomato puzzles!

Backyard Growers announces new headquarters and grows its leadership team

We’re excited to announce that on July 1 we relocated our headquarters to 3 Duncan Street in downtown Gloucester. The new space (known locally as the former Alchemy and Happy Belly restaurants) will host Backyard Growers’ gardening workshops, community events, and day-to-day operations. Stop by to say hello and check it out! 

And, our team is growing, too! We’re thrilled to announce Lisbeth Cahill’s appointment as Director of Operations at Backyard Growers. Lis is joining the team after a robust career in banking, operations and human resources, including 25 years at The Food Project. A Gloucester resident, she’s an experienced non-profit manager with a background in farming and youth engagement. Lis will be taking our operations to the next level, helping us become even more effective and impactful in our community. 

This exciting season of change is, of course, bittersweet, as we say goodbye to Meghan Stratton, Associate Director of School Programs. Meg has been a lynchpin of Backyard Growers for the last five years, starting out with us as a FoodCorps service member. She has had a huge impact on our work in Gloucester’s public schools and beyond, leading our farm to school programming locally and pioneering our consulting approach that has made it possible for us to roll out our school garden program model to schools across Massachusetts. We’re wishing Meg the very best on her next adventure, and we know that our Gloucester community is right there with us when we say we know she’ll make a huge impact wherever she goes.

As previously announced, Corinne Lippie started as our new Program Director in May. This is a new position at Backyard Growers that combines both our school and community programs as well as our growing consulting practice. 

We also want to extend a huge thanks to Abby Johnstone, our 2018-2019 FoodCorps service member who served in the Gloucester Public Schools with Backyard Growers for the past school year. We are going to miss Abby’s creativity, enthusiasm, and sunny disposition, and know she will go on to do great things! 

Finally, we would like to welcome our new 2019-2020 FoodCorps service member, Emily Brown, who will be leading the charge in our farm to school programming in the year to come. Emily joined us this spring as our Urban Agriculture intern, and we’re so pleased that she is staying on with us as a service member. Emily studied sustainable horticulture at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School while working at The Food Project. She’s looking forward to serving Gloucester as a 2019-2020 FoodCorps service member with the Backyard Growers team. Welcome, Emily!

Stop by 3 Duncan Street to meet Lis, Corinne and Emily, and check out our new space! We’ll be announcing a fun Open House event in the days to come, but in the meantime, you can reach us at or 978-281-0480 with any questions.

Introducing Backyard Growers' new Program Director!

Dear Friends:

As we transition from a rainy spring to a promising growing season, we bid a warm farewell and thank you to our Interim Program Director, J. Harrison. J. stepped in at our busiest time of year to launch our spring initiatives, streamline our program deliverables, and shape the new full-time Program Director position.

It was such a gift to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with J., who is a dear friend and a long-time supporter of Backyard Growers. Going forward J. will continue to work with us as a consultant, working on a range of projects to help us continue to build healthy, connected and environmentally sustainable communities.

After a rigorous candidate search, we are thrilled to announce Corinne Lippie as our new Program Director. Corinne has been leading and managing nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston area for the past 15 years. Her professional experience bridges work in academia, philanthropy, non-profit, and business.

Corinne began her career as a Program Officer at Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at the Kennedy School of Government. In 2009, she became a Project Director at the North Shore United Way, where, among other things, she spearheaded a new initiative to combat childhood obesity. It was in that role that she was first introduced to Backyard Growers.

In 2015, Corinne and her husband and two children moved to Rome, Italy, where she developed a deep appreciation for cross-cultural learning and insight into the relationship between children and their access to healthy food in a European context. She and her family returned to their home in Beverly in the summer of 2018. Eager to re-engage with her local community, Corinne joined the Backyard Growers Board of Directors in winter 2019. We quickly realized that her expertise was a perfect fit for the new Program Director role and asked her to join our job candidate pool.

The need to create the new Program Director position and to restructure our staffing model emerged out of our 2018 strategic planning process. We’re excited about our new path as outlined in our 3-year strategic plan, which we launched in winter 2019. In her role, Corinne will lead in implementing our strategic plan objectives, developing our new consulting practice, and overseeing our Community, Backyard and School programs.

She’s excited to get to work with the Backyard Growers team and to connect with our many community partners. If you would like to reach out to Corinne, you can reach her at She’s looking forward to working with all of you!


Lara Lepionka

Executive Director