Mentors help beginner gardeners blossom at Backyard Growers

Backyard Growers has been helping Gloucester residents learn to grow their own food since 2010. We have installed hundreds of raised bed vegetable gardens around the city for families, individuals and older adults both in private backyards and community gardens.

Elizabeth Redmond began volunteering as a mentor to beginner gardeners at Backyard Growers in the summer of 2018. As an employee at Pathways for Children in downtown Gloucester, she became familiar with Backyard Growers through the garden they run on-site to provide fresh salad ingredients for children involved in programs at Pathways. With a great personal love of gardening and the outdoors, Elizabeth was attracted to Backyard Growers’ goal of empowering other people to garden and grow their own food.

Part of the joy of gardening is helping neighbors reconnect and building a stronger, healthier community. When Elizabeth signed up to be a mentor, she was matched with a diverse group of people with a range of skill sets, approaches and needs. They all challenged Elizabeth to develop new ways to communicate and teach a love of gardening.

One of Elizabeth’s mentees had worked at a botanical garden, but she had never grown vegetables. Another mentee had never gardened in his life. Elizabeth’s third mentee is going to be a Backyard Growers volunteer this coming season. All three had beautiful, productive vegetable gardens.

But, Redmond says, perfection in the garden isn’t the goal.

“You lend your confidence as an experienced gardener, but the great thing about gardening is that you don’t have to be perfect,” says Elizabeth. “You just need to be comfortable, with a can-do attitude. Gardening is more forgiving than you might think.”

We are currently recruiting for new mentors who can share their love of perfectly imperfect gardening with beginners. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a mentor or exploring other volunteer opportunities with Backyard Growers, visit or attend the Volunteer Info Session, which takes place on Saturday, February 23, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Backyard Growers’ offices at 271 Main Street. You can RSVP to the Volunteer Information Session here.

Volunteers sharing their muscle power in the garden!

Volunteers sharing their muscle power in the garden!

Tune in to GloucesterCast: Lara Lepionka on our 3-year vision

[Backyard Growers’] purpose is rock solid, but you’re also very mindful of the financial aspects of it. As a businessman, I feel more confident being able to give, knowing where this money is going because there’s a real impact and a real ability to see it into the future. That’s fantastic.
— Joey Ciaramitaro, Good Morning Gloucester

Our Founder and Executive Director Lara Lepionka is featured on the latest episode of GloucesterCast, chatting about our three-year vision for building healthier, more connected and environmentally sustainable communities in Gloucester and beyond from the 4:50 mark.

The vision includes:

  • Launching a new community garden in Gloucester that also acts as a learning urban farm

  • Introducing a Farm to School experience to eighth graders in Gloucester Public Schools

  • Cultivating healthy, inspiring, creative school food environments

  • Sharing BYG’s successful community garden model with other cities and towns in Massachusetts and beyond

  • Empowering school districts across the state to launch their own successful Farm to School programs

Photo credit: Kim Smith,

Photo credit: Kim Smith,

Introducing our new Interim Program Director

Hello Friends:

We bid farewell and wish all the best to our dear friend and colleague, Anna Swanson, who has served Backyard Growers and our community for the past five years.  She will be moving up to Maine at the end of the month to start a new position with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Anna first came to Backyard Growers as a FoodCorps service member in 2013 and worked her way up to Associate Director of Community Programs, serving hundreds of Gloucester residents in our Community and Backyard Garden programs.  Thank you, Anna, for helping Backyard Growers grow!

We are excited to announce that James “J.” Harrison, former Executive Director of The Food Project, will be joining Backyard Growers as Interim Program Director.  We couldn’t be more thrilled to have such a powerhouse of an individual bringing his expertise to Backyard Growers!

Meet J. Harrison

Meet J. Harrison

Prior to becoming The Food Projects’ Executive Director in 2014, J. held multiple roles within the organization, including Farm Manager, Director of Agriculture, and North Shore Regional Director.  He has an extensive background in small-scale agriculture and has managed farms throughout the United States.  J. has served as the Massachusetts State Partner for FoodCorps, was a founding member of the Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance, and is currently on the steering committee of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.

J. has been involved with Backyard Growers since its inception, working with Food Project youth to build garden beds at schools, organizations, parks, and backyards across Gloucester.  He was also instrumental in forging the partnership between Backyard Growers and FoodCorps, and in helping develop our successful Salad Days School Garden Program.

In addition to picking up Anna’s duties—managing community gardens, training a new season of growers, and more—J. will help Backyard Growers hone our community and school program deliverables and strategies to achieve the greatest impact. He will also help create a permanent full-time Program Director position that will be announced this summer.

J. has been briefed on all of our city, school, and community partnerships and projects and is excited to get started. If you’d like to reach out to J. his email address is He and I are looking forward to working with all of you this spring.

P.S. Hope you can make it to our strategic plan launch party tonight (Thursday 1/24) from 5-7 PM. We’ll walk through the highlights of our plan at 6 PM. Refreshments served!

Best wishes,
Lara Lepionka
Executive Director

Compost top-offs from Backyard Growers and Brick Ends Farm

As the warmer months wind down, we’re offering organic compost top-offs to help gardeners put their gardens to sleep for the winter!

All Backyard Gardeners in our program who joined in the last two years will receive a free top-off of Brick Ends Farm's premium compost and top soil. Top-offs for our Gardeners will be taking place November 5 - 7. You don't need to be present to receive your compost top-off - just ensure that your garden bed is clear of all plants. We'll take care of the rest! 

Not a current Backyard Gardener in our program, but still on the look-out for a great compost top-off? For a flat fee of $30, we will fill your garden with Brick Ends Farm’s premium compost/top soil blend for a flat fee of $30 per 4 x 8’ garden bed. 

We are launching this new initiative because we know how hard it can be to stay on top of the garden with all the things we have going on in our lives! If you’re a lapsed gardener—no worries—let us come fill your garden bed so you are ready to get right back at it when the snow melts in the spring. There’s always next year!

We will be making deliveries on November 15 and 17. Your garden bed must be cleared by then for us to deliver your soil. You do not need to be home to receive your delivery.
How to order: 

1. Go to and pay $30 per 4 x 8’ garden bed.

2. Then, contact Anna Swanson at to confirm receipt of payment, number of beds, address, and to review any details. If you prefer to pay by cash or check you can arrange payment at this time. We must have your payment to make the delivery. 

Once you've had your compost top-off, you can put your garden to bed for winter! We recommend mulching with straw (not hay - it can have seeds in it that will sprout!), leaves from your yard OR any dead plants you pull up from your garden bed, as long as they don't have any fruit attached. 

Then... get dreaming about what your garden will look like next year!