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TSCG and Coffin School: a Win-Win-Win Partnership

By Lisa Martin

As the rainy, cool spring finally nudged closer to summer-like weather, Coffin School first graders took a walking field trip to the Tom Settlemire Community Garden – their second trip of the school year.  Butternut squash, cucumber, lettuce and nasturtium seedlings that they’d planted and nurtured at school awaited them for transplanting.  How exciting!  Almost 140 first graders arrived in three waves of classes over the course of one school day to transplant, sow seeds and tour the garden. The goal was to help grow vegetables that would be donated to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program while learning about how plants grow. This event was only possible because of a dedicated group of volunteers who demonstrated planting techniques, answered questions, engaged students in conversation and showed a tremendous amount of patience and good humor!  Several volunteers were retired teachers, some were plot holders and a few were veteran TSCG volunteers. It was a great day for the young and old to connect over some broken ground and work together for the good of the greater Brunswick community.

Reflecting on this day while weeding the lettuce, trellising the cucumbers and checking on the squash, it became apparent that this project hit all the targets in BTLT’s stated mission for the TSCG.

The mission of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden is to provide intergenerational organic gardening opportunities, increase the availability of locally grown food for the alleviation of hunger in our community, and offer experiential gardening education at a nominal cost to the people of the greater Brunswick & Topsham area.

Sexagenarians and septuagenarians worked side by side with six and seven year olds as they pushed trowels into the soil, measured the depth of their holes, and tucked seedlings into their new homes.  The tour guides shared their knowledge of pollinators, compost piles and vegetables as kids asked questions and shared their prior gardening experiences with their leaders.  Smiles, laughs and good cheer were had by all.

The benefits of this project are bound to continue as the seedlings grow and begin to produce vegetables over the coming months.  Already heads of lettuce have made their way to MCHPP and snap peas are soon to follow. The cucumber plants are flowering and climbing their trellises, so it won’t be long before they produce long, spiky fruits.  In the fall when the butternut squash is harvested, they will be added to the Thanksgiving baskets that MCHPP distributes to those who are food insecure. Coffin students are helping their community.

Clearly, the experience of planting seeds in the classroom and observing them grow and participating in a much bigger gardening project at the TSCG deepens students’ more theoretical learning about plants.  It is an engaging, powerful and magical experience for the children.  Placing a seed in the soil, tending it, waiting and then seeing it germinate is empowering, especially for those children who lack self-esteem or control in their lives. They learn not only about how plants grow but about patience, persistence and responsibility. The act of bringing this seedling to the garden and connecting it with the garden soil helps them understand where their food comes from and why we must take care of the earth.  Knowing that the vegetables produced at the TSCG will be donated so that people in their community will be less hungry helps them develop empathy and community engagement. The walking field trip allows them to traverse local neighbors, exercise their bodies and minds and make connections in their town.

First grade teachers expressed their support for the program in a post-event survey:

The first grade students at Coffin School are lucky enough to visit the Tom Settlemire Community Garden both in the Fall and Spring. Just as we teach them about the life cycle of plants—they are truly able to see it come to fruition at the garden by harvesting the squash in the fall, and then planting it for next year’s first graders in the spring. The TSCG volunteers are knowledgeable, friendly, and allow the students ample time for hands-on learning, which is incredibly valuable at this age. A truly invaluable experience for our students—thank you! – Kalie Dunn

This field trip is strongly connected to our first grade curriculum in both science (plants) and social studies (community). Children learn best by doing – what better way to learn about how plants grow AND about being an active member of our community than by planting food to help Brunswick residents in need! Starting the plants in our classroom, watching the seeds become seedlings, and then transplanting them brings our life cycle learning full circle from our harvesting at the garden in the fall. After the trip we had a group discussion about our field trip and the kids had some great things to say:

“It was really cool that first we harvested food that last year’s first graders planted and then we got to plant the food for the next first graders to harvest! We helped each other learn!” Student: “Will my family eat the cucumbers we planted?” Teacher: “Well, if your family finds they are in need of food you could go to the food pantry where the cucumbers will be once they are harvested.” Student; “I didn’t know about that place. I’m glad we can do that if we need food.” – Meredith Sciacca

Children have been invited to return to the TSCG throughout the summer to extend their learning and enjoyment in the garden.  On volunteer workdays (Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30-10:30) they can help with pest management, weeding, watering, sowing seeds and harvesting.  Undoubtedly, they will observe that we are not the only ones who like to eat vegetables as they learn about pollinators, beneficial insects and garden pests.  They will begin to visually discriminate which little plants are weeds and which ones are seedlings. As the plants develop and begin to mature it will become evident which plants are grown for their leaves and which ones for their fruits. And, as the season draws to a close, they will be reminded of the life cycle of plants and how it ends….until next spring.

Fun in the Sun at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden

By Lily McVetty, Summer Intern

A group of students discovers some worm friends while working in the raised garden beds.

Hands dug around in the dirt, feet navigated through the Labyrinth in the Woods, and mouths smiled ear to ear under the sun. Rising seventh and eighth grade students from around the nation joined Tom Settlemire Community Garden plot holders, local volunteers, Regional Field Team members, and BTLT staff in completing an array of tasks at the Community Garden this past Tuesday. Students volunteer annually at the Community Garden though a teen adventure camp, Apogee Adventures.

Alex Perry from the Regional Field Team wheels a full barrow of weeds through the Community Garden (Lisa Martin, 2019).

This summer, students on the New England Mountains & Coast trip brought their hiking, kayaking, and biking stories to the Community Garden. When asked, “What has been your favorite trip activity so far?” some students claimed hiking in Acadia was the best, while others argued that sea kayaking in the MidCoast area was their favorite. Regardless of which outdoor activity was the most popular, it was entertaining to listen to their shared experiences. Occasionally, plot holders, local volunteers, Regional Field Team members, and I would contribute related, personal anecdotes. There was something special about having a wide range of ages and experiences working collectively. The diversity in backgrounds and positionalities planted the seed for the happy hum of conversation and work to grow throughout the Community Garden.

A special Thank You to Tom Settlemire Community Garden Coordinator, Lisa Martin for organizing and helping out with this event.

Behind the Scenes of Trail Development

By Lily McVetty, 2019 Summer Intern

Lots of excitement is happening at Cathance River Nature Preserve and Tardiff!

Cathance River Nature Preserve is a 230-acre property, located at the Highland Green Retirement Community in Topsham. Within the past two years, there has been a significant amount of residential development at Highland Green. A meadow that locals call the Rabbit Ear, which once hosted an intersection for several trails, is now under construction to become home to five new homes. To ensure continued trail usage, the trail network within the Rabbit Ear area is being re-routed. This week, a handful of well-versed volunteers from Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) came out to assist with establishing a new trail. I appreciated not only their prior knowledge and experience, but also their company. As a student who anticipates on studying abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands, I enjoyed conversing with a volunteer about the city. Ron informed me that he was recently in Amsterdam and enjoyed his time there so much that he hopes to return to the city in the near future.  It was thoughtful of Ron to share his favorite spots and recommendations with me while we worked to develop a new trail section.

Tardiff is a 121-acre property located between the Cathance and Muddy Rivers. The property is divided into two major parcels by Middlesex Road in Topsham. Although there are no official parking spots and trails yet, BTLT is in the process of planning and putting those into place. Margaret and I scouted the northwest parcel for seasonal trails. After a couple trips around the perimeter, several loops through the woods and tall grass sections, and many tick-checks later, we flagged a relatively direct route to a serene outlook on the Cathance River. Next week, we will be teaming up with the Regional Field Team to clear the anticipated trail. Additionally, Margaret and I flagged a loop trail for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. Fun things are coming!

Beekeeping at CSF

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Program Manager, Jamie Pacheco, and her husband, Nate Wildes, enjoyed a couple hours with Ken Faulkner, beekeeper at Crystal Spring Farm, learning all about beekeeping.

We’ll be out there with Ken again on July 21 from 10am – 12pm if you’d like to learn all about bees, too! Click here for details.

Woodward Cove Trail Improvements

By Lily McVetty, 2019 Summer Intern

June 20, 2019

This past week, land stewards from the Regional Field Team helped Margaret and I complete various projects at several properties in Brunswick and in Topsham. It is true that a little help goes a long way. With the assistance from the Regional Field Team, we were able to accomplish a lot of important tasks that would otherwise be daunting. Thanks to their hard work and upbeat demeanors, the trails at Woodward Cove are in better condition and are waiting to be explored and enjoyed!

We dedicated a significant part of the week to working on improvements at Woodward Cove, a property located on Gurnet Road in Brunswick. The water access trail was re-routed to create a direct path to the water and to protect and conserve the marshes. In the near future, BTLT anticipates installing stone steps to ensure its users a safer transition from the land to the water. Additionally, this will aid in protecting the shore from further erosion. On the loop trail, invasive plant species were removed and bog bridges were installed.

These projects presented us with the opportunity to learn and fine-tune valuable stewardship skills and techniques. We learned how to properly use a chain saw to cut down hazardous trees. I learned how to identify and remove several invasives. Woodward Cove is home to a non-native plant called Bittersweet. It is characterized by its bright orange roots, which should be hung off the ground in nearby trees to prevent further spreading. The Regional Field Team and I had a fun time testing each other’s invasive plant knowledge. How many invasives can you identify on the Woodward Cove trails?

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm named Best Farmers’ Market by Down East Readers!!

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm was named Best Farmers’ Market in Down East magazine’s annual Best of Maine issue. From shopping to eating to playing outdoors, Down East readers and editors selected their statewide favorites this year and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market made the list!

Winners of the “Best of Maine” awards are selected for one of two categories: the Readers’ Choice or the Editors’ Choice. Ideas for the annual Editors’ Choice Best of Maine Down East are collected throughout the year as the magazine’s editors and contributors travel the state. The Readers’ Choice nominees are identified and voted on by thousands of Down East readers each year. Individual categories include Travel & Play, Food & Drink, Arts & Media, and Home & Style. This year the winners were closer than ever.

Farmers’ Market Manager, Jacqui Koopman, says of the award, “I have long been proud of our stellar lineup of vendors and it is extremely gratifying to have our market named the Best in Maine for the second year in a row. Saturdays at our market are good fun; it is a community, much more than a place to buy great food and I’m very happy people appreciate what happens there.

The full list of “Best of Maine” winners appears in the July issue of Down East, on newsstands now and available in the Down East Shop now.

Down East Enterprise, Inc., is a multimedia company based in Camden, Maine. The company’s flagship publication, Down East: The Magazine of Maine, is the largest paid-circulation magazine dedicated to the Pine Tree State. For more than six decades, Down East has been the authority on Maine, and today continues to capture the reader’s attention with an insider look at contemporary life in Maine. They also produce a suite of digital assets that complement and support each of its niche brands.

Getting to Know Our Neighbors: A Recounting of BTLT’s First Bioblitz at Crystal Spring Farm

By Christian Schorn

Green Soldier Fly. Photo Credit: Richard Joyce

It must have looked odd. In one corner of the Blueberry Fields at Crystal Spring Farm, a group of people crept across the fields, every now and then one leaping or pirouetting with a long net on a pole. In the other, people knelt in a circle around a miniscule patch of grass, their eyes inches away from the stubby flowers. But what looked like modern dance or pagan ritual was actually naturalists at work!

On June 8th, BTLT hosted its first ever Bioblitz at Crystal Spring Farm. The goal of a bioblitz is to compile a list of all the known species in a given area over a defined period of time. Expert, amateur, and aspiring naturalists all get together and spend a morning, day, or week catching butterflies, following beetles, scoping out birds, and identifying wildflowers, recording their observations as they go. Bioblitzes can be useful for a variety of reasons—data collection, public engagement, or just a fun excuse to get outside. But why focus on these little fields?

Black Huckleberry. Photo credit: Richard Joyce

What many people know as the “blueberry fields” at Crystal Spring Farm is really a rare natural community type called a Sandplain Grassland. These prairie-like ecosystems appeared in Maine soon after the glaciers retreated, tracing the outline of the sandy glacial moraines and outwash deltas left behind. They were likely maintained in their open state through burning by the indigenous Abenaki people for blueberry farming and game hunting purposes, but after European settlement, many of these grasslands were developed, converted to agriculture, or invaded by trees as a result of fire suppression. The modern remnants of this natural community in the Northeast are ecologically enigmatic, and ranked as “extremely rare” by the state of Maine.

As stewards of the conserved land at Crystal Spring Farm, we consider it our responsibility to preserve these rare elements of Maine’s natural heritage. In the next several years, we hope to implement prescribed burns in the blueberry fields as a management tool to reduce tree and shrub cover and sustain the natural grasslands. But we won’t be able to tell how effective these treatments are unless we understand exactly how they change the landscape— so we put out a call for enthusiastic naturalists to help us!

Dryland Sedge. Photo credit: Christian Schorn

So on a warm Saturday morning in June, BTLT staff and volunteers met bright and early on the Blueberry Loop for an early morning birding hour. After hearing and witnessing uncommon grassland birds such as eastern meadowlarks and prairie warblers, we divided into two naturalist strike teams—one catching and studying insects, and the other identifying and recording plants. Pictures and identifications were uploaded to iNaturalist, an app designed to collect and share species observations from across the world. If you are an iNaturalist user, you can see our collected observations under the project “BTLT Blueberry Barren Bioblitz. Team Bug had a fruitful morning catching and observing an astounding number of native pollinators and insects such as ichneumon wasps, soldier flies, nomad bees, and pine elfins. Team Plant learned how to identify plants using botanical keys, and wielded their newfound knowledge to identify chokeberries, cinquefoils, and blue-eyed grasses, and discover endangered species under their own noses, including a vast population of the endangered velvet sedge (Carex vestita) and new populations of the rare dryland sedge (Carex siccata)!

We will be holding a second Bioblitz this summer on August 10th (check our Events page for more information closer to the event date!), to continue collecting pre-burn baseline data, and will continue to host bioblitzes in the summers following our burn management, to understand how biodiversity changed in response—like taking pictures both before and after a home renovation.

Pygmy Bee Fly. Photo credit: Richard Joyce

Apart from gaining valuable data on the biodiversity of an area, we came away with a greater and deeper appreciation of what our conservation efforts are protecting here at Crystal Spring Farm. By the end of the day, we found ourselves noticing little things we hadn’t before; a quick-fluttering day emerald moth, iridescent tiger beetles glinting in the sun, waves of velvet sedge rippling gently in the breeze, a sole pink ladyslipper standing erect above a low sea of blueberry bushes. We share our conserved places with these special species, and it’s the least we can do to get to know our neighbors.

Thanks to Richard Joyce for helping to organize this event, and to all the volunteers who showed up to help!

New Face around BTLT! Meet Summer Intern, Lily McVetty

Hello! My name Lily McVetty, and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College. This summer, I will be stewarding various properties for BTLT and helping out at the weekend farmers’ markets. As someone who grew up in Maine, I am passionate about maintaining and conserving the State’s natural resources. I have many fond memories hiking, swimming, and skiing in Midcoast Maine. It is my hope that many forthcoming generations will also be able to benefit from their natural surroundings. During my past two years at Bowdoin, I have enjoyed several runs and visits to properties maintained by BTLT. I look forward to familiarizing myself with the non-profits’ trails and to supporting local farmers and businesses within the community.

I am grateful to live and study in an area in which its immediate and neighboring communities share a strong desire to protect its environment. I am excited to learn from and work alongside Brunswick and Topsham organizations. My internship at BTLT will provide meaningful experiences that will lead to many future opportunities to continue advocating for sustainable practices.

While off the trails, I will be volunteering with the Sunrise Movement, adventuring nearby restaurants and coffee cafés, catching up on leisure reading, and playing soccer with friends.

BTLT in the News, “Brunswick land deal had happy ending”

Brunswick land deal had happy ending

Tim Glidden & Angela Twitchell

June 16, 2019

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust recently acquired Woodward Point, a property totaling 87 acres along the New Meadows River. The property was discussed in another article earlier this month and thus, Tim Glidden, the President of MCHT, and Angela Twitchell, Executive Director of BTLT, wrote to expand the reader’s understanding of this exciting update.

We read Douglas Rooks’ column (“Conservation land a big draw,” June 6) with great interest and were pleased to see that the town of Wayne is considering expanding its publicly accessible waterfront. We are writing to share the full picture of the example in Brunswick that Rooks cited.

While the town’s decision to sell a tax-foreclosure property was the source of some local controversy, the story has a happy ending. The town reserved a significant portion of the sale proceeds, dedicating them to improving public access to Brunswick’s coast, an opportunity that is in particularly short and shrinking supply on the Maine coast. With generous and enthusiastic financial support from the town, our organizations, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, came together to acquire and conserve 87 acres on the New Meadows River that provides public access to two miles of coastline, including highly productive clam flats. Community divided no longer!

We’d also draw your readers attention to the recommendations of a recent statewide Land Conservation Task Force, released earlier this year. The 1986 effort referenced by Mr. Rooks led to the creation of the Land for Maine’s Future Program now popular across all of Maine that has assisted communities like Brunswick to conserve the cherished lands and waters that form the basis of Maine’s economy and quality of life.

The new report stresses the importance of community-led land conservation efforts like those in Wayne and Brunswick. Even as we write, the Legislature is considering a major new Land for Maine’s Future bond to support implementation of the task force recommendations.

We agree with Mr. Rooks: “Effectively combining conservation with economic development may not be the whole answer, but it’s surely a good place to start.”

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