For press releases only. Will show on front page under latest news. Only focus on what we want the media to follow.

BTLT in the News: “Intertidal: Enjoy the transition to autumn with walks along Midcoast trails”

Intertidal: Enjoy the transition to autumn with walks along Midcoast trails

By Susan Olcott – The Times Record

To read the full article online, click here. 

I blame it on seasonal shifts, which is the topic of this column, but I wanted to provide an apology for the incorrect publishing of last week’s column. You may have noticed that it was about spring fish migration and that seemed a bit out of place in September. Perhaps it is appropriate, however, given the column that was intended for last week, which is as follows …

We have officially said goodbye to summer, passing the ominous Sept. 22 — a day and transition I always resist. The end of season’s whipping winds helped a bit, however, as they signaled a shift from the summer’s equilibrium to the imbalance of the air temperature as it cools, and the water hangs on to its summer’s heat a bit longer. I, too, find myself outside in every possible sunny moment, absorbing every bit of solar radiation in an effort to stay fueled by it for the rest of the year. It is the cooling air temperature that whips up the winds common at this time of year, and that also perhaps makes us feel whipped up and out of balance ourselves. The winds also help to accelerate my acceptance that it is … fall.

Once I’m able to shift gears, there is an energy to the fall that I love — the energy of the wind, the energy of kids getting back to school, the energy of people getting boats and docks out of the water. Summer’s more relaxed pace, exacerbated often by the slowing effect of heat, picks up. This is true not only for the activities that we have to do but also true for what we do for fun. Fall is a time when many people come to Maine not to sit on the beach but instead to hike along trails or bike along quiet roads.

While leaf peeping season is not limited to the coast by any means, the waterfront is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place to see the changes in color. Those changes happen not only in the trees but also in the sky and the color and texture of the water. The sensory experience of it is truly overwhelming. It is a perfect time to seek out some of the coastal access points that you might not have yet discovered. And, with cooler temperatures, a walk along a trail is more appealing. We are fortunate in Midcoast Maine to have an array of trails that offer views out onto the water for those willing and able to walk a little way out of their way. Many of these trails exist thanks to Maine’s network of land trusts that aim to preserve access to nature for people to enjoy and to protect those habitats and resources for both recreational and economic benefits to the surrounding towns.

In Brunswick, we have the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust that does an amazing job of continuing to build not only its trails and access points but also its public programming that is aimed at educating people about the environments that BTLT protects. There is specific information about all of the trails on the BTLT website (btlt.org). A few of my specific favorites that offer ocean peeks include the Maquoit Bay Conservation Land trail, the Skolfield Preserve off Harpswell Road and the trails at Woodward Point. Another great resource is the guide that Brunswick’s Rivers and Coastal Waters Commission put together that shows the town’s coastal access points along with helpful information about how to be a responsible member of a coastal community and the importance of taking care of our resources. The guide is available on the RCWC page of the town website (brunswickmaine.org); you can also pick up a copy at the Brunswick Hannaford or at the Town Office. Just across the bridge in Topsham is the Maine Coast Heritage Trust office, a group that also works to protect coastal properties including islands both locally and throughout the state. They operate the Maine Land Trust Network, which is comprised of over 80-member land trusts that coordinate on their efforts and share resources.

So, while I will continue to resist the end of summer each season, I am grateful for nature’s nudge to get out and explore the many properties that are protected for everyone to enjoy.

To read the full article online, click here. 

Ways to Honor Indigenous People this Season

Indigenous People’s Day is October 10th! Learn about how Indigenous People’s Day came to be in Maine via Maine State Muesum and News Center Maine. Keep reading to learn about ways to engage with this important day both in-person and remote in the coming weeks.

Have you heard of the Pejepscot Portage Mapping Group? It’s a group of various professors, artists, activists, and others in Brunswick focused on indigenous representation in this area, past as well as present. This group is part of the Midcoast Indigenous Awareness Group (MIAG), a group of midcoast Maine residents working to raise awareness in ourselves and others about local and regional Indigenous cultures, histories, and current challenges through education and programming. They will be offering two live programs at Curtis Memorial Library as part of the Indigenous People’s Day holiday season:

  • “Many Voices: Who Gets to Tell the Story? How does our community understand itself in terms of its Indigenous past and present?”
    • Facilitated panel discussion, September 28th at 6:00pm, Curtis Memorial Library
    • Panelists: Heather Augustine, Mihku Paul, James Francis, Joe Hall, and Steve Weems, moderated by Rev. Dr. H Roy Partridge Jr.
    • Click here to learn more about this event
  • “A Path to Community – Seeking to learn more about the place we now call Brunswick”

A great way to continue learning about and supporting Indigenous communities is to attend educational events and support Wabanaki REACH! They’re hosting a film screening and panel discussion next month that you may want to check out: “Voices from the Barrens, Native People, Blueberries and Sovereignty, documents the wild blueberry harvest of the Wabanaki Indigenous People from the USA and Canada as the tribes are challenged to balance blueberry hand raking traditions with the economics of the world market.” Learn more here.

Another way to engage with Indigenous People’s Day, specifically in relation to the outdoors, is to check out the webinar linked below: Indigenous Voices in the Outdoors, co-hosted by Rethink Outside™ and First Nations Development Institute.

BTLT understands that the conservation movement has a history fraught with exclusionary practices. We know that the history of the land we manage and an array of privileges that have supported our organization are rooted in the marginalization and disenfranchisement of many people. We recognize that the burdens of environmental damage, climate change, and lack of access to land-based resources are disproportionately placed on communities of color, Indigenous communities, people with physical and mental disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and low-income communities because of biases and other disparities. We acknowledge our responsibility to understand that past and to commit to making the future different. To read more about BTLT’s commitment to a more just and equitable future, please click here. 

Shimmying Shad and Splashing Sturgeon: Event Recap & Recording

Earlier this month, Cathance River Education Alliance and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust hosted presentation for John Lichter and Renske Kerkhofs to discuss the recovery efforts on the rivers of Merrymeeting Bay. The event was well attended and the recording can be viewed here. Renske shares:

“Though it is always a good time to talk about shad, with the upcoming relicensing of the Brunswick-Topsham hydroelectric dam in 2029, now is a better time than ever! This talk was a great way to raise awareness about the inefficacy of the Brunswick-Topsham fish ladder and the negative impact this has on American shad populations. Many of you attended and had great questions.”

She continued by sharing that the main takeaway is that research using sonar technology has shown that the fish ladder at the Brunswick-Topsham hydroelectric dam is not adequate in allowing shad to pass and go to their upstream spawning grounds. With the relicensing of the dam in 2029, we have an opportunity to make changes.

“Of course, there is much more to do to help our river ecosystems than just the Brunswick-Topsham dam. If you are interested in shad or overall river ecosystem health, try to learn more about dams in your area and what your personal observations while walking, kayaking, or boating might indicate about river health!” Renske says.

In Spring of 2023 join CREA, BTLT and Charlie Spies for part two of this series for a presentation on the dam relicensing process, and learn about how you can get involved in dam relicensing in our area.

Rare Birds Sighted at Crystal Spring Farm!

by Lydia Coburn, BTLT Communications Coordinator & Outreach Assistant

We’ve all been on a walk outdoors and enjoyed the sounds of birds chirping and singing. Some of us may be able to identify certain species. And some of us may even be able to identify the call of a bird we hadn’t heard in decades, stopped at a stop sign at an intersection. That’s exactly what happened to Brunswick resident Gordon Smith earlier this summer. 

Originally from Massachusetts, Gordon has been a birder his whole life. His father was a birder, and would take his wife on frequent bird walks. Gordon joked that he first began to learn bird calls from inside his mother’s womb. His love for birds continued throughout his life as he moved to Illinois, Michigan, and then eventually found his way back east to Maine in the 1980s. 

Henslow’s Sparrow at Crystal Spring Farm, taken by Gordon Smith

Gordon and his wife, both BTLT members, live about three miles from Crystal Spring Farm, and frequent the property for nature walks and bird watching. In early July, the Smiths were driving on Casco Road and stopped at the intersection at Pleasant Hill Road. With the windows down and the radio off, it was the perfect summer moment to hear the call of something truly magical. Gordon hadn’t heard this call in 55 years since he had lived in Michigan, when he was a teen and would go birding in grassland habitat. He rushed home, got his camera and audio equipment, and got back to Crystal Spring Farm as quickly as possible to try to find the Sparrow. He noted that “they can be cryptic. They’ll sing but you can’t find it. Their call is like a hiccup, not a song, and it carries quite a bit.”

What most people would dismiss as just another chirping bird in the July soundtrack, Gordon identified this particular species that are not usually found in Maine. They’re typically a Midwest grassland bird. “They’re not supposed to be here,” Gordon said, “and yet I saw two! Singing a lot, about 400-500 feet apart.” He returned day after day for almost two weeks, monitoring their behavior and looking for evidence of breeding, like collecting nesting materials. Check out Gordon’s eBird for his photos, audio recordings, and observations. Gordon observed them perching on goldenrod, singing day after day, but no breeding behavior was witnessed. Over the course of the next month, the New England birding community caught wind of this exciting, and peculiar, news and flocked (pun intended) to Crystal Spring Farm to see the Henslow’s Sparrow for themselves. The last recorded sighting of this particular bird in this area was in 1986 by Peter Vickery at the Brunswick Naval Air Station

Henslow’s Sparrow at Crystal Spring Farm, taken by Gordon Smith

Both individual Henslow’s Sparrows were observed perching and singing from their respective territories for at least 24 days (since discovery on July 5). No breeding activity had been observed. Gordon shared that “Henslow’s sparrows are found only in old fields that have not been disturbed for several years (like the farmland along Pleasant Hill Road, east of the 4-way Stop intersection). Thus, because of its restrictive old field habitat, even where it breeds in the Midwest (Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio), it is uncommon.”

Eager to chat with another phenomenal local birder, I hopped on the phone with an old friend Doug Hitchcox. He got the eBird alert of a bird he hadn’t yet seen in Maine on the way back from Monhegan Island in early July. He noted that with western Pennsylvania hosting the closest, largest population of Henslow’s sparrows, they’re rare in the northeast. With hundreds of folks coming to see them, some from as far as Rhode Island, it is “very cool for just a little brown sparrow.” They can be found in decent numbers, in the right places in the Midwest, but because a lot of the area is developed and threatened by row cropping agriculture, many grassland bird species populations are dwindling. 

I asked Doug why or how they may have arrived here, and why two? Doug suspected that they’re potentially prospecting, that maybe there was too much competition where they were born last year and they’re trying to find new range to be in a new habitat to breed. He commented that it truly “says a lot about the habitat in that field – a lot of goldenrod, the right height of plant species, everything was perfect.” 

Doug continued on, sharing that, “All grassland bird species are in trouble due to habitat loss – they’re one of the fastest declining bird groups in North America. This Henslow’s Sparrow could be a key species to help other birds like meadowlarks, bobolinks, and other grassland species – whatever helps nesting birds, is great for the general ecosystem!” 

Blue grosbeak at Crystal Spring Farm, taken by Gordon Smith

BTLT’s Director of Stewardship Margaret Gerber noted that, “It’s been an exciting season at Crystal Spring Farm for birds. A few other rare grassland birds were observed for the first time in the blueberry barrens this summer, which is encouraging to see following management efforts, including prescribed burns, to support and maintain habitat for endangered species that depend on this natural community.” In just a single month this summer, an eBird hotspot at Crystal Spring Farm had roughly 87 species reported! Gordon Smith and Doug Hitchcox, along with many other birders, have spotted grasshopper sparrows, savannah sparrows, swallowtail kites, eastern meadowlarks, whippoorwills, and blue grosbeaks at various locations on the property. There’s an estimated 170 bird species at Crystal Spring Farm, with a variety of different species spotted across the diverse landscape of forested trails, blueberry barrens, and farmland fields.

It’s an exciting and thrilling mystery to hear and see rare birds at this property, but it goes to show that management of mixed-use land can yield productive agriculture, public recreation space, and still support a thriving level of biodiversity.

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Nancy and Dennis Lemieux, Emily Settlemire, and Alisha Chaney

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plot holder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plot holders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. This post features more recent members of this Garden community: Nancy and Dennis Lemieux, Alisha Chaney and Emily Settlemire.

Nancy and Dennis Lemieux

Nancy and Dennis

It was a lovely July afternoon when I met Nancy and Dennis in the Garden, tending to their community garden plot only a few strides away from my own. The Lemieux’s moved to Maine 35 years ago from Pennsylvania, where they first met. While this is only their second season in the TSCG, they have already gathered an abundance of knowledge.

The pair expressed that last year they were overzealous, as many new plotholders are, packing a variety of plants into their plot with high hopes. But at the end of the growing season, they discussed what they wanted to change, deciding to simplify their garden and be extra diligent to add compost and nutrients to the soil. They also constructed a wooden border around their plot to keep weeds out, protecting their peppers, tomatoes, and other crops. Their ability to redesign their plot reflects the freedom plotholders have to tailor their space to personal taste.

Every plotholder has a different approach to layout in the Garden, and Nancy and Dennis recognized that variations in the composition of a plot, from configuration to choices in seeds and fertilizer can greatly vary the financial costs of maintaining one’s garden. 

“You get so much fun out of [gardening], it makes you feel good to see things come to life that you grew. You have a say in your food to be organic and natural. It’s your space, it takes you away from everything else you’re focusing on. It really relaxes you, listening to the birds, and feeling the breeze. You don’t have to talk to anybody, but everybody here is really great. People share ideas and what they grow with others. It’s not too overwhelming,” shared Nancy 

Dennis agreed with this sentiment, emphasizing that the knowledge of other gardeners is one of the most beneficial aspects of the Garden:

“My advice for new gardeners would be to start simple, stay within things that you like and don’t give up. There are real, accomplished gardeners here, so take advantage and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s a lot more to it than just growing, we meet new people here and for us that’s been great.”

Emily Settlemire

Similarly to the Lemieux’s, this is Emily Settlemire’s second year with a plot at the Garden. As Nancy and Dennis expressed, the intergenerational knowledge within the Garden can be extraordinarily beneficial to new plot holders. Emily has a unique perspective on the Garden as the granddaughter of Tom Settlemire, former BTLT president, current BTLT board member, and a dedicated supporter of the local agricultural community.

Emily’s parents both grew up on farms, surrounded by livestock and agriculture. While neither of her parents pursued careers in the agricultural field themselves, Emily’s family still had a garden throughout her childhood in Warren, Maine. This exposure to gardening, as well as science experiments in school sparked Emily’s interest in the activity early on. 

This season, Emily is growing chard, sugar snap peas, and garlic. While low germination rates have been an occasional challenge for her, Emily expressed that her appreciation for the crops that do succeed is all the more satisfying. 

Many plotholders I’ve talked to prefer to come to the Garden disconnected from technology and enjoy the natural sights and sounds of the space while gardening. While Emily appreciates this time connected to nature, she also enjoys listening to podcasts while tending to her plot as a “pick me up if [she] needs to push through a [gardening] project.” One podcast Emily is currently into is called Let’s Grow Girls, hosted by a couple from the U.K. interested in flower farming.

Though some plotholders have abundant time to tend to their plants, Emily expressed it can be challenging to find time to make it to the Garden as often as she would like. While attending the cardiovascular program at Southern Maine Community College, Emily was able to water everyday on her way home from school but now that she works long shifts at the Maine Medical Center, she expressed it has been difficult to make it to the Garden after work. Nevertheless, when Emily has been able to make it to the Garden after a hectic work day, the ease of being surrounded by plants is a welcome release. Emily has also learned how to configure her plot to her advantage as she navigates her varying amount of time to commit to the Garden:

 “It’s a privilege to be out there. I think it comes down to finding the right things to plant out there, and that is where you’re gonna get success.” 

While many gardeners treasure the planting and harvesting stages of the season, Emily revealed that weeding is one of her favorite things to do: “It’s very therapeutic, so simple and satisfying. You go through and bruise up your plot, but the next day, everything arrives from that work. It’s a chore that I once dreaded but now it’s something I want to get into and clean out.” Emily expressed her excitement in observing the root structures that are revealed in this process, providing her with a deeper understanding as to what is going on in her garden underground. Perhaps this interest is what sparked her commitment to the compost volunteer team at the Garden.

After community members and gardeners drop off their compost in the pile, the members of the team rotate their responsibilities on a weekly basis, ensuring that the decomposition process is running smoothly. This year, the compost team has a sizable group of volunteers, so the responsibilities have not been too overwhelming on any one individual. The compost team greatly contributes to the success of TSCG, providing an outlet for plot holders to fulfill their required annual volunteer hours but also bringing community members together.

Alisha Chaney

This year at TSCG, Alisha is growing delicata squash, zucchini, bell and shishito peppers, leeks, potatoes in a bucket, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, radishes, strawberries, garlic, and more. Before I officially met Alisha Chaney, I knew who she was from her exclamations about the monarchs in her plot and the embroidered gift she donated to the BTLT office for Pride Month. Like the Lemieux’s and Emily, Alisha Chaney has been a part of the Garden for two years now. She shares plot 66 with her best friend, but also takes care of plot 10. Though originally from New Hampshire, she moved to Maine eight years ago.

Growing up, her grandmother always had a small garden made up of cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans, where she fondly recalled summer meals with the fresh produce: 

“One of my favorite core memories as a child is going out and harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes, immediately slicing them, salting them and just sitting with my grandmother and eating them for lunch.”

Though she grew up around gardens, Alisha confessed that her green thumb did not come to her naturally:

“Growing plants is challenging for me but I’m good with plants that grow food because I’m more invested in them. I enjoy it but at times it’s also mildly overwhelming. I find it relaxing and so satisfying to say to neighbors and friends, ‘I grew this, let me feed you’”

Not only does Alisha love sharing a taste of her garden with friends outside of the space, she enjoys getting to know her neighbors in the Garden as well:

“Every time I go, I run into somebody new. And I always go and say hi because usually I am exclaiming like a cartoon character, ‘the squirrel didn’t come to eat my strawberries’ or whatever happened that day.”

As someone with two plots, Alisha was able to see the difference in the effectiveness of her various gardening techniques. In one plot, where she spent less time preparing for the year, she has been battling weeds that pop up all season, but in her second plot where she put in the time it has been smooth sailing. This experience informs her advice for new gardeners, emphasizing that choosing your battles is important: 

“Give up on a plan. Don’t try. But one thing I learned from last year is if you do a really good job at the end of the season, putting your garden to bed, like making sure to be here and get stuff turned over, it sets you up really well for the following season. And taking the time to adequately weed your plot before planting will also help you, and save you from the weeds completely.”

As someone who works full time in Portland, it can be hard to make it to the Garden for the Common Good Garden work days which are hosted on weekday mornings. However, there are many other ways for plotholders to fulfill the six hour per season volunteer commitment. Alisha is able to do so through smaller projects tidying the Garden, such as weeding pathways on her own time, making plot number markers, and redesigning the Garden map.

While everyone has different approaches to gardening, and varying time to commit to their plot, TSCG has something to offer for all community members. Whether you’re looking for a picnic table with a calming view to eat your lunch, or a plot to spend countless hours tending to, the Garden is welcome to everyone in the community to enjoy.

Meet Addison Wagner, this year’s BTLT Farmers’ Market Poster Artist

This year we were thrilled to bring back the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Farmers’ Market poster and even more delighted to have someone from our Market design it! Addison Wagner, a talented artist, and member of the team over at Whatley Farm, drew the beautiful handful of kale featured on our 2022 poster. Addison, who is based in Portland, Maine, works primarily in graphite and charcoal, as well as pen and ink. Addison’s work highlights the beauty of the natural world in incredible detail and is deeply tied to her own connection to her environment. 

In Addison’s words: 

I’ve always had a passion for both art-making and environmental work, two pursuits that felt at odds until I found my way to sustainable farming. That discovery came about through a combination of factors: a desire to contribute to a community, a love for spending time outside, a preference for hands-on labor, and pleasure in witnessing the results of that labor. In my experiences working on farms since, I’ve enjoyed the ways that environmentally beneficial farming and art-making overlap – both require careful observation and a deliberate and thoughtful investment of time and energy. Appreciation for the work itself and belief in the final product are principles that inform both my farming and my art.” 

Be sure to join us at the Farmers’ Market September 3rd and September 10th when Addison will be set up selling prints alongside printmaker Anastasia Inciardi! Plus you can pick up a poster at the BTLT any Saturday for the rest of the season, we printed limited copies so be sure to snag yours soon. 

Our Farmers’ Market poster brings together a love of art and local agriculture. We look forward to continuing the Market poster tradition and embracing local artists in our community. 

BTLT In the News: “State parks on pace for another record year”

Portland Press Herald, State parks on pace for another record year – John Terhune

To read the article online, click here.

Popham Beach had its busiest month on record in July, helping put the Maine State Park system on track to break attendance records for a third consecutive year, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

“We’re on pace to beat last year again, and last year beat the previous year, so it’s kind of a multi-year run,” said department spokesperson Jim Britt. “These are big numbers.”

Over 62,705 visitors spent a day at Popham State Park last month, up 110% from July 2021, according to the State Parks Public use report. There were about 1.8 million total visitors to Maine’s 48 state parks and historic sites from January through July, 3.9% more than through that same period in 2021.

A lengthy spell of hot weather contributed to the spike in visits to sites like Popham, Scarborough Beach and Range Pond, according to Britt.

“When we have beautiful weather, we have really strong numbers overall,” he said. “That heat wave sent all of us to the beach.”

Yet he added the state park system’s high daily visitation and camping numbers, which are also up 2.6%, are the continuation of a trend sparked by the arrival of COVID-19.

With limited options for socializing indoors, Mainers and visitors from nearby states turned to Maine state parks at record rates in 2020, despite parks closing in the spring. Since then, the flood of visitors hasn’t slowed, even as restrictions have loosened.

“I do believe that we can directly correlate this to the impact of the pandemic on people’s interest and desire to be experiencing the outdoors,” Britt said. “Folks discovered the beauty of Maine state parks as a destination, and they are sticking with it.”

The trend extends beyond the state park system. Compared to pre-pandemic times, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has seen more traffic on its trails, conserved properties and water access points, according to Executive Director Angela Twitchell.

“During the early days of the pandemic when everyone was inside, one of the few things they could do was get outside on public trails,” Twitchell said. “I think that tangible benefit that our work is bringing to people is translating to new members.”

While the influx of visitors is welcome, it can pose challenges and increase costs for those tasked with maintaining public lands, Twitchell said. She hopes the spike in interest in the outdoors will translate to more donations to fund trail maintenance, improved parking and the conservation of more lands.

Money is already set to flow to the State Parks system, thanks to a $50 million initiative launched by Gov. Janet Mills in June.

“Our state parks are treasures that belong in perpetuity to the people of Maine for the enjoyment and benefit of the people of Maine,” Mills said during the announcement event. “With this funding, we will undertake the important and long-neglected work of rebuilding our parks as part of our effort to improve the experience they offer and to secure their place as vital economic engines in communities across Maine.”

Besides funding infrastructure upgrades and trail maintenance, the investment will pay for accessibility measures, including a recently installed mobility mat at Popham that allows people in wheelchairs to more easily navigate the beach. Mills is set to visit the site on Thursday.

Britt hopes the upgrades will help bring even more record crowds to Popham and other state parks. Whether adventurers try Quoddy Head, Roque Bluffs or some other spot, he said they’ll likely find themselves hooked.

“It’s a tall order to find a place that you don’t fall in love with,” he said.

To read the article online, click here.

 

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: John and Arabella Eldredge & Dan Kipp

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College working at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plot holder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plot holders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. I loved talking with neighboring plotholders, John and Arabella Eldredge and Dan Kipp, because while they share a pathway between their gardens, they each have unique approaches.

Arabella and John Eldredge

John & Arabella by their garden plot

John and Arabella Eldredge moved from Cumberland to Brunswick around seven years ago and immediately secured a plot at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. While they had their own larger garden for almost 25 years in Cumberland, they believe that “what they gave up in size, they made up for in community.”

Arabella was raised in Annapolis, Maryland, but she grew up visiting the Maine island Vinalhaven in the summer, cultivating a love of Maine from an early age. It was these summers where she began gardening in her parents’ family garden, a plot that Arabella and her siblings still collectively tend to. Not only did Arabella’s parents’ love for gardening foster her own interest, but her mother’s early interest in organic food also shaped her passion for cultivating her own crops.

While Arabella’s mom was ahead of her time in her appreciation of organic food throughout the 60s and 70s, John’s mom leaned into the era of convenience in the 50s and 60s. Throughout his New Hampshire upbringing, John’s family grew up eating packaged and processed foods. 

“You know, if you can throw some fish sticks in the oven, maybe a little bit of iceberg lettuce, you’re good. It’s funny you grow up with a certain set of norms and sometimes you adopt those and carry those for two generations and sometimes you rebel against them and do something very different.”

While John didn’t think twice about processed foods very much at the time, when he got to college he began discovering the benefits of fresh and natural food, eventually pursuing a career in the natural food and products industry. 

Today, John both volunteers at and is on the board of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. Working in the receiving area, he watches produce come in from Hannaford and Target, to Six River Farm, making him all the more appreciative for the community connection to the Common Good Garden at TSCG. John and Arabella also expressed their appreciation for the rising farming industry as a whole and the creative ways people are finding to add value to their farms. 

“Any opportunities that can be found to connect younger people to growing food is a great thing. We’re definitely seeing a new generation of young micro-farmers rather than just growing commodities. People are growing things organically or they’re actually doing a little bit of processing and finding ways to add value, so it’s very encouraging to see our farmland start to become productive again.”

In addition to appreciating TSCG’s role within the system of agriculture as a whole, John and Arabella expressed their love for the most basic joys of gardening. 

“You put things in and it’ll give back to you. I like eating fresh vegetables, but also not knowing what’s going to happen from year to year. It’s always different. I just like the surprise factor and the joy of eating.” said Arabella

“I’m the token occasional waterer, I really love the kind of the ceremony, but also just the noticeable freshness of being able to harvest your own vegetables and eat them right away, “said John. “It’s a really well designed space, has plenty of sunshine and attracts a lot of interesting people who have commonalities.” 

Easy access to this garden has allowed many Brunswick residents like the Eldredges to stay connected to their plot throughout the week, and between John and Arabella, they are at the garden four or five days of the week. While John has retired from a career of working in collegiate admissions, Arabella still works at the library in Cumberland. On her way to work she’ll stop by to give water to the seeds in the morning and then off she goes! Like many plot holders, John and Arabella expressed their enthusiasm for the change throughout the seasons of cultivation:

“You’ll have fun experiencing the evolution of the garden throughout the growing season. By the time you get into August it’s like Eden because the bird and butterfly life is awesome. It just keeps changing which is cool.”

Dan Kipp

This year Dan is growing watermelon, squash, mustard greens, beans, dahlias, marigolds, swiss chard and it’s his first year growing a tomato. Like many plot holders, he has found and transplanted some lettuce growing by the weed pit in the garden, and it is now thriving!

John and Arabella’s plot is right beside the plot of Dan Kipp who is originally from Massachusetts, but has been in Maine since 2014. While Dan grew up helping his mom in her garden, the practice has remained idyllic in his mind. Both growing his own food and having a project that’s outdoors are the biggest draws of gardening for him. 

When he first came to Maine he was living in Portland and the local farmers’ markets were one of the first stepping stones in encouraging him to return to gardening himself. When he moved to Brunswick he began researching community gardens and stumbled upon the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, where he first started gardening last year. 

“I remember being really anxious to plan it, wanting to make sure that I got it right. I put everything in by seed except for one lupin, already in bloom and put it right smack dab in the center. And I remember thinking okay, if none of these other seeds come up at least that lupin will” Dan shared. “Within a week the lupin was dead but on the plus side everything else came up so it was kind of funny.”

Whether a first time gardener has beginners luck like Dan, starting a plot from scratch can be nerve racking. Dan explained that although his successes of his first year have eased some of his anxieties, that every year in the garden brings new considerations and challenges:

“Last year everything went so well I almost expected it to be the same this year and this year that has not been the case…Even knowing it’s as simple as just water and weed, I was still worried about everything. Like, am I doing this right? Well this year I don’t feel that at all. So I think it’s really normal to feel it and once you start seeing stuff coming up already.”

Something that helped ease his initial anxiety was volunteering in the Common Good Garden, a portion of the TSCG grown by volunteers and donated to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. Before Dan planted anything in his garden he made sure to volunteer at the CGG workdays on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to observe the growing process elsewhere before trying it himself. The Common Good Garden is filled with expert and master gardeners who not only provide tremendous support to the cultivation efforts but have abundant knowledge to share.

When Dan is not at the garden he loves to read, listen to music, exercise, and hang out with his two chihuahuas. However, to protect the plants and to make sure everyone feels comfortable gardening at TSCG, dogs are not allowed inside the Garden. Though the garden is largely a free and open space, there are a few important rules to maintain its beauty and community use. For example, sunflowers are not allowed to be grown in the garden because they can shade neighboring plots and their seeds can attract pests like mice and chipmunks which like to munch on other plants once they are in the garden.

Dan expressed that while these rules in the garden are not ideal for how he would like to grow in the garden, he understands their purpose: “The dog rule is a hard one for me…and the sunflowers but those aren’t complaints, they’re just disappointing. I don’t like it, but it makes sense, I get it.” Working in a community garden is sometimes about compromise and balance.

When I asked Dan about his favorite parts of the garden, he mostly gravitated towards the feeling of the space, from the physical impact of getting in the dirt to the psychological benefits:

 “I do really like that swing by the picnic table because after crouching, I swing to flow and get a release. I really like physical movement generally, so I mostly enjoy the exercise part of [gardening] and encouraging growth. There’s like a giddy feeling that comes from when something’s first blooming yeah. I don’t know what that’s about, but I’ve talked to people who have been gardening their entire lives, they have said that to me as well, and that feeling doesn’t go away.”

From a range of experience to approaches to gardening, talking with Dan and John and Arabella revealed to me the wide range of gardeners we have in this space, with new and exciting stories just around the corner. 

Dan’s Advice for a New Gardener: “The biggest thing I learned last year is how much there is to know. I also wanted this year to be more slowed down, less in a rush and big sweeps and when I come here, not just water, but to slow down for a second, to observe and see the changes between days. Learn from just those observations a little bit more.”

Arabella and John’s Advice for a New Gardener: “My advice for gardening and anything else in life is to simply just start with a few things. Before you expand wildly, just know you really can’t control what nature is pointed to. I think sometimes it is just an experiment, you might discover something that nobody else has. The beauty of the community garden is you can ask anybody for a tip or advice and they’re happy to share it.”

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Jamie Pacheco, Devore Culver, & Connie Kniffin

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College working at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plot holder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plot holders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. Speaking with Jamie Pacheco, Devore Culver and Connie Kniffin, whether as staff or volunteer, each provide significant contributions to the garden beyond the maintenance of their personal plot.

Jamie Pacheco 

Jamie Pacheco is the Program Manager at BTLT and after almost five years of working at the Land Trust, this is her third year with a plot at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. In her plot this year, she is growing carrots, garlic, onions, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes.

Raised on an old dairy farm in Winthrop, Maine, Jamie was surrounded by agriculture from an early age. She didn’t get into gardening herself until she was around 15 when she began helping her Dad grow vegetables and perennials. Her interest has grown from installing planters on the deck of her apartment after college, to the gardening beds at her current home. 

“It can be very frustrating the first season when you’re like, ‘I’m gonna have a garden and it’s gonna be great’ and then you get hit with all these challenges that nature throws at you. So if you know somebody else who is a gardener ask them for their advice.”

Though it can be challenging at times, this process of learning and experimenting was one of Jamie’s favorite parts of her start to gardening. She was also drawn to the activity through an attentiveness to what she puts into her body, how food is grown, and how it impacts the surrounding environment.

“I love to see all these flowers in bloom and other pollinators thriving in this little pocket of the world that I call my own.”

Not only did Jamie recognize her personal impact on land as a gardener, but she also reflected on the institutional privilege and responsibility of the Land Trust. 

“We are incredibly lucky as a land organization to have access to so much land. It’s critically important to me that we use that privilege to enable other people to have access to outdoor spaces and serve the needs of the community. I personally love food, so to be able to serve the community and give land access in a way that provides food through the garden and increases resilience is amazing.”

The garden is a bit of a commute from Jamie’s house so she will usually visit the garden to water amidst a day of work at the BTLT office or turn to her dad for watering assistance, as her parents have a plot right next to hers. Watering support like this is common in the garden; Jamie has not only watered her neighbor’s plots, but also exchanged seedlings and vegetable harvests. 

“We’re not all gardening in isolation, we’re gardening together and in community. There’s an avenue for an exchange of information and knowledge. It’s so exciting to me that we are able to do that every day and it’s something that we’re going to be able to keep doing.”

Jamie has found ways to extend this community beyond the fences in the garden. She loves to use the produce she grows to cook for friends and family, donate to MCHPP, or even turn her excess produce into compost. 

“It’s nice to be able to give what I’ve grown away. To be able to give people that I know or care about food that I spent hours growing and tending is very meaningful to me, I think food that someone has made is one of the most special things to receive from somebody.”

Devore Culver

As a non-profit, BTLT receives support from a range of sources, whether this be full-time staff, board members, or donors. While Jamie Pacheco works hard to support TSCG as the Program Manager at BTLT, Devore Culver has contributed tremendously to the Garden as a volunteer. 

While this is only the second year Devore (Dev) Culver has a personal plot, he was previously in charge of the Common Good Garden, and now continues to guide the Garden as a mentor in the BTLT gardening mentor program supporting new gardeners at TSCG.

I met with Dev right before a rainstorm, he transplanted his squash while we talked so he could get them in before it rained. Just as he got the last squash in the ground the storm began to start, giving the squash a good drink while we walked to the shed.

Early on in our conversation, Dev told me: “I garden because it’s something I’ve always done. It’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes at a time of relative solitude.”

As a child raised in Maine, Dev spent a lot of time gardening with his father. As a physician, gardening offered his father a sense of release and therapy. Dev and his siblings find a similar joy in the activity and have all carried on the gardening legacy of their father. 

While much of Dev’s time spent at the garden has been shared with the larger community, his “partner in TSCG gardening crime, and life partner” is Melanie Pearson. Outside of the garden, Dev and Melanie have both pursued careers in healthcare. Melanie has been involved with both BTLT and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program as well.

Taken in 2019 by Lisa Miller, the TSCG Coordinator at the time, when TSCG had a “sunflower room” as part of its youth education program. While the sunflowers were enriching to this program they are no longer allowed in the garden due to shading neighboring plots and attracting pests with their seeds.

When Dev first moved to Brunswick six years ago, he saw a blurb inviting Common Good Garden volunteers, and joined the team of five. After an enjoyable season, Dev stepped into a leadership position, expanding the Common Good Garden, building bluebird houses, and constructing a hoop house to grow greens and tomatoes, now used by the New Mainers garden. Not only have these investments in the Common Good Garden contributed to hunger prevention efforts, but the community of volunteers has also created a space for intergenerational gardening knowledge.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Common Good Garden volunteer group was the most diverse it’s ever been in terms of age; teenagers were able to learn from older volunteers and Master Gardeners, fostering a rich experience all around. Dev has also collaborated with high school gardening research programs in the past, utilizing the garden to learn, build pollinator gardens, and encourage fundamental professional skills. 

Dev has gotten to know many of the Common Good Garden volunteers very closely. Many don’t have a plot themselves, but come to the garden because they are committed to the concept of growing food for others. Dev particularly values the connection between the Common Good Garden and MCHPP, expressing that the overlap in volunteers allows for an exchange of feedback regarding which donations from the garden are successful and which are not. While the group of volunteers at the garden is close-knit, they are also extremely welcoming. 

“Everybody gets in the dirt. And that’s just the nature of what this is. I think the Land Trust tries very hard to balance a community garden with some social objectives and I think that’s a really good thing.”

A melon snack for volunteers in the Common Good Garden

As for Dev’s own plot, he primarily eats what he grows, but because he is mostly growing melons this year he anticipates needing to give a lot away. Dev expressed that this sharing is one of his favorite parts of the garden, “In prior gardens, elsewhere, my neighbors started to lock their doors and pull the blinds when they saw me coming because I was constantly dropping string beans off.” He also fondly recalled breaks from volunteering in the Common Good Garden at the height of melon season, when the group snacked on freshly cut cantaloupe.

Dev has come to understand the garden from many angles, whether that be a part of the Common Good Garden team or a plot holder, he has accumulated a lot of advice for both new and veteran gardeners:

“Keep it really simple. First year out, don’t try to do 20 or 30 crops, come in realistically, knowing that you’re gonna have problems. Temper that with the understanding that not always gonna be perfect and frequently won’t be perfect at all. The beauty of gardening is that you will fail nine times out of ten, it’s just the way it is. It’s a very humbling experience because you go in knowing full well that you’re gonna fail. But that’s what makes it kind of fun. “

Connie Kniffin

In Connie’s plot this year she’s growing cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, lettuce and more. She loves to cook, and especially ratatouille.

Similarly to Dev, Connie Kniffin is a tremendous supporter of the Common Good Garden as a volunteer. But before she became established in Brunswick, it was difficult for her to leave home. Originally from Connecticut, Connie used to live in Woolwich, Maine where she had many gardens. 

Before the move [to Brunswick], we were looking at a cottage and then my husband said, let’s take a drive. We came by here and I saw the big community garden and I went, Oh, well this might work.”

While the move to Brunswick away from her land was difficult at first, this is Connie’s fourth year with a plot at TCSG. Her plot at the garden and her gardening responsibilities at Thornton Oaks, a retirement community in Brunswick, have offered her much joy. While she did not grow up gardening, she was a kindergarten teacher for 38 years so she loves being creative outside, something that gardening can offer her. 

“The challenge of gardening, the unpredictability of it, you’d never know what’s going to happen and you can’t get defeated by that, which I sometimes do, but I try not to. I love the feeling of independence of growing your own vegetables. It feels good.”

While Connie greatly enjoys navigating the uncertainties of gardening, she also suggests turning to others for advice. Connie is a committed volunteer at the Common Good Garden workdays, collaborating to grow produce to donate to MCHPP. While this is a community service outlet for her, she also learns a lot along the way:

“I love gardening at the Common Good Garden because you just always learn something. Every time I go home afterwards I write down three things I learned from everyone. I believe everyone should take advantage of all the knowledge that’s around here.”

Not only does she learn from other volunteers at the Common Good Garden, but from the observations of other plot holders’ techniques as well. This year, after spotting a friend putting paper bags around her tomatoes, Connie tried the same method to help with wind shelter and moisture retention. Additionally after her zucchini plants began to get decimated by pests, she consulted Julia St.Clair, Agricultural Programs Coordinator at the Land Trust, and together they discussed a solution of row cover over the plants, ultimately saving the zucchini in the end! 

While there have already been some ups and downs, Connie expressed her excitement for her plot this season:

“I’m pleased with my garden this year. It looks great. It looks happy. Yeah, that’s the important thing. This is a happy place. You walk in and you just have to be happy.”

From a member of staff, a former garden coordinator, to a committed volunteer, Dev, Jamie, and Connie, reveal the abundance of knowledge at TSCG. Whether one visits the garden once a year or every day, everyone contributes to the strength of this gardening community. We are especially grateful for the time that these three plot holders have contributed to the greater Garden in addition to caring for their plots.

4,600+ Pounds of Blueberries Harvested to be Donated to Good Shepherd, Preble Street, and Indigenous communities throughout Maine

By Lydia Coburn, BTLT Communications Coordinator

The morning of Friday August 5th I headed out to Crystal Spring Farm to witness something truly exceptional. 

As I walked through the forested trails, the trees provided great shade on one of these hot summer days we’ve had so many of. I rounded the corner, to what opens up to the blueberry barrens. It doesn’t look like much, but I knew it held a deep history, unique ecology, and great potential for giving. 

These fields have existed for thousands of years, with the blueberry plants living deep beneath the ground, sending shoots up to the surface each summer.

What I stood upon was a Sandplain Grassland – a natural ecological community ranked as “critically imperiled” by the Maine Natural Areas Program. The 21 sandy acres that are part of Crystal Spring Farm were deposited by rivers of glacial meltwater about 13,000 years ago, and are superb for the growth of low-bush blueberries, among other unique plant species. Since conserving the blueberry barren, BTLT has conducted two controlled burns to support the grassland vegetation and rare species that depend on this imperiled habitat. The most recent burn in spring 2021 on 14 acres of the blueberry barren proved to be extremely beneficial, as the wild blueberries are thriving this season! 

BTLT summer intern Cora Spelke and and Seth Kroeck of Maquoit Wild Blueberries/Crystal Spring Farm.

Even before I truly entered the barren, I could see multiple families crouched over with containers in their hands, and smiles on their faces. Both families remarked at just how abundant the fields were this season! But the true reason for my visit was a bit further past the “no blueberry picking beyond this point” sign. Lured by the sounds of a tractor, I made my way over to Seth Kroeck of Maquoit Wild Blueberries/Crystal Spring Farm and BTLT summer intern Cora Spelke who were hard at work harvesting crate after crate of blueberries. 

During one of his daily walks earlier this summer, Seth, who leases the land abutting Crystal Spring Farm for organic commercial blueberry production, noticed that the blueberries that had been recently burned were looking good – really good. Blueberries (and fruit) are far less frequently donated to food banks and folks who are food insecure because of their short shelf life, high commercial value that many farmers depend on, and the fees that come with processing and freezing fruit to preserve it. While looking at the bumper blueberry crop at Crystal Spring Farm however, Seth saw an opportunity to bring together organizations to harvest and donate blueberries from just a small portion of the barrens at Crystal Spring Farm while still leaving plenty of the delicious berries for wildlife and the community for u-pick. 

Working in 60 inch passes, the tractor grazes along the wild landscape harvesting blueberries.The organic average for harvesting is about 1,000 pounds per acre.

Due to the impressive bounty of berries this season, Seth’s objective was to mechanically harvest as many pounds as they could by mid-day from 3.5 acres that were set aside by BTLT for donation. By the time I arrived, they had been out there for an hour or so, and already had quite a few crates filled with blueberries. Seth predicted they’d harvest at least 2,000 pounds by the end of the day. Once harvested, the crates would be packed up and sent to a hub in Union, Maine where they would be consolidated. Next, off to be processed and frozen in Ellsworth, via Merrill Blueberries. After their long journey, these blueberries will be donated to families and individuals experiencing food insecurity through Good Shepherd and Preble Street as well as to Indigenous communities throughout Maine.

Each crate weighs about 22 pounds – during the consolidation process, about 13-15% of that weight is lost due to finding smashed berries, sticks, leaves, etc.

It was quite a sight to see – just a few folks, one tractor, and acres of hilly-landscape with the potential to feed. The very next day, I received an email from Seth informing me that they completed the task around 4:00 pm, with a whopping 4,655 pounds harvested! It’s an amazing cycle to ponder, from the burn, to new growth, to prosperity, to sharing. What an incredible natural landscape we have the honor of tending to and caring for, and the land returns the favor ten-fold. 

The different shades, sizes, and flavors of berries are different variations of the plant being expressed in slightly different ways.