History and Background
Since the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust began their community outreach and fundraising effort to purchase and protect the 321-acre Crystal Spring Farm, one of the most common responses was, “What a great spot for a community garden!” Just a mile-and-a-half from Brunswick Village, close to the schools and numerous retirement and rehabilitation facilities, and with nearly 200 acres recognized as prime agricultural soil by the State of Maine, the “rural heart and soul” of Brunswick has a lot to offer the community.
The Land Trust completed the purchase and protection of Crystal Spring Farm in 2008 after raising more than $2.5 million in two capital campaigns spread over 15 years of outreach and community building. The Farm has become the Land Trust’s signature property– home to five miles of trails, a busy farmers market, highly successful CSA, and numerous community events each year.
In 2011 the inspiration for a community garden finally coalesced when a speaker from the Cumberland County Extension Service spoke to the Land Trust’s Agriculture Committee about ways that the Land Trust could work more closely with Extension. Several members of the Committee got particularly excited about the idea of creating a Community Garden in collaboration with Master Gardeners from the Extension Service. “There is such strong interest for this in our community,” said BTLT director Fred Koerber, who chaired the Agriculture Committee during the development of the Garden. “We felt we needed to open up opportunities at Crystal Spring Farm for everyone by being innovative and creative.”
In honor of Tom Settlemire – a former Land Trust president and longest-serving Director, tireless campaigner for the protection of Crystal Spring Farm, retired Bowdoin biology professor and longtime sheep farmer – the community garden was named in his honor. Tom has led the way in making Crystal Spring Farm a major force in the local food economy, and has played a prominent role in the establishment of the garden – both on the ground tilling soil and building fences, as well as in the planning and behind the scenes through efforts such as establishing the Marilyn Settlemire fund – a scholarship program for low income families to cover plot fees and seeds, and provide mentoring.
After many years of vision, planning, and raising awareness, in the spring of 2012 hundreds of volunteers came together to till, dig, and build the Garden’s individual plots, install a perimeter fence, place a shed, and build compost bins. In addition, the Land Trust worked closely with Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP) to develop the Common Good Garden (CGG) – a 1/8th acre area of the garden where plotholders and other community volunteers grow food for MCHPP’s pantry and soup kitchen. In 2012 the community, local funders, volunteers, and Revision Energy joined forces to install a creative solar-powered water system, which was expanded in 2013 to include an automated irrigation system that significantly increased the yield and decreased the demand for volunteer hours to water in the Common Good Garden.
The first three seasons of the TSCG have been a huge success: all plots were leased; thousands of pounds of fresh local food have been infused into our local food system including over three tons of produce grown for MCHPP; hundreds of volunteers helped to build the garden, install the solar-powered irrigation system, plant an orchard, and do all the maintenance and upkeep; and dozens of teens and hundreds of youth, college students and others have visited the garden to learn, volunteer, and relax.