Eastie Farm, Community Honors Outgoing Manager

Three years ago Alex Graora was looking for an AmeriCorps job online from his home in Cleveland, Ohio and stumbled upon an opportunity to work for an upstart community farm in East Boston. Intrigued by the description of Eastie Farm and its mission in the neighborhood and reached out to Eastie Farm Founder and Director Kannan Thiruvengadam. “I had a conversation with Kannan for about two hours and then three days later I moved all my stuff from Cleveland to here,” said Graora. That was in October of 2019 but Graora never imagined five months later his work for Eastie Farm would become one of the most important jobs he’s ever had as the COVID pandemic hit the neighborhood particularly hard. “Before the pandemic we were working in local schools and teaching about sustainable farming every Wednesday and Friday,” explained Graora. “Between that we would have our volunteers at the Eastie Farm gardens working and doing some capital projects over at the Sumner Street location.” But when the pandemic hit Eastie Farms, like many other nonprofit agencies in the area, was forced to reinvent themselves to deal with the sea of humanity dealing with joblessness and food insecurity. “That’s when our food service really started to take off,” he said. Soon Graora and Eastie Farm’s staff and volunteers were delivering 5,000 meals a week to Eastie residents in need. “I was sort of the man on the ground while Kannan was organizing our relief efforts behind the scenes,” said Graora. “When I first started in 2019 I probably met five to 10 regular Eastie Farm volunteers but as soon as the pandemic started and the food service began we had tents set up and dozens of people coming down everyday to help us deliver food to the hundreds of people that were coming daily. There were an insane amount of people. I met so many good people and that really opened up East Boston to me.” Graora, who will be moving to Philadelphia to be closer to family, said he could have never imagined the impact Eastie Farm would have when he first signed up for the job. “I guess you never really know what to expect when you accept any job but I could never have predicted what ended up happening in 2020,” said Graora. “I feel really proud of what we’ve done. When I came in we had one functioning garden and to see it go from three full time people to the 10 part time staffer and four full time staffers today complete with Eastie Farms’s new greenhouse is great. Eastie Farm has really grown as a nonprofit outside of all the food service work that we’ve done during the pandemic. I’ll look back on my time here really fondly. We’ve accomplished a lot and when people remind me I was only here for two and a half years, it really felt like a much longer time. It is bittersweet to be leaving. I mean, the whole thing is really bittersweet.” Thiruvengadam said Graora has been the linchpin of Eastie Farm during its formative years and though he flew under the radar, his accomplishments are amazing. “During the height of the pandemic, as food insecurity raged in our community, 300-600 hot meals went through his hands every day, to feed East Boston families,” said Thiruvengadam. “The logistics were made on the fly. Alex worked quickly knowing there were kids waiting eagerly for the food. He took on a highly ambitious project of a zero-emissions greenhouse, also during the pandemic, and diligently completed the hardest parts (geothermal drilling, delivery and construction of the greenhouse) working through the permit process and quilting several grants and managing the ballooning expenses among supply-chain and contractor challenges. He played several roles during this project: grant-writer, project manager, general contractor, and ground supervisor to name a few.” Thiruvengadam added that as the farm manager, he supported Eastie Farms’ now expansive food program and education program by ensuring safety and convenience in the sites for these programs. “Alex has been a god-send to Eastie Farm,” said Thiruvengadam. “We wish him a joyful voyage even as we know we will miss him dearly. We take comfort in the thought that wherever he is, he will have a positive impact on our world. We pray for his own wellness and happiness as he carries on in his service to others. And we hope that more young people will walk in his footsteps. Thank you, Alex.’

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