The midcoast Maine region is home to a particularly high density of farms and organizations committed to promoting food access. Over the past months, a number of local farms, along with the Merrymeeting Gleaners and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT), have been working together on an ambitious project to collect and distribute hundreds of seedlings to dozens of food access programs across the southern midcoast region. The project is already proving hugely successful, with thousands of plants having been distributed. In time, these seedlings will mature in various gardens around the region and yield significantly more food per unit than redistributing already grown vegetables.
“We hadn’t done much seedling donation before this year,” said Ben Whatley, co-owner of Whatley Farm, one of the farms who has taken the lead in donating seedlings. “It was always just excess produce going through… when we’ve had the gleaners out to glean the crops on the fields. [Gleaning seedlings] was a new idea [for us].”
A few months ago, Whatley reached out to Kelly Davis (gleaning coordinator for the Merrymeeting Gleaners) and Jamie Pacheco (program manager at BTLT) offering to donate a variety of excess vegetable seedlings. Pacheco and Davis contacted a network of partner organizations in the area to gauge interest, with the Merrymeeting Gleaners managing the logistics and distribution. The response was rapid and enthusiastic.
“Seedlings aren’t really something we’ve gleaned before, but [Whatley] reached out to us asking if we could use the seedlings and I was like ‘OK, let’s try it,”’ said Davis. “I put an email out to all our partners and I got an overwhelming response—within half an hour, I had to stop taking requests!”
Since that initial proposal, about 2,000 seedlings have been distributed to a wealth of organizations in the midcoast Maine area, with Milkweed Farm, Six River Farm and Goranson Farm also contributing seedlings.