Did you know Maine has 8 Species of Bats?

by Steve Pelletier, semi-retired Wildlife Biologist and Maine Forester, Topsham resident

It’s the last day of Bat Week! Check out how you can take action, have some fun with the kiddos, and read below to learn more about bats in Maine. Scroll to the bottom to check out a video from Maine Fish & Wildlife too!  

Bats – the flitting, shadowy creatures of night skies around the world – have long been associated with nocturnal, unworldly beings and agents of disease, with a sole intent to create terror, tangle hair, and suck blood. Yet when simply left alone, bats are fascinating creatures, harmless and highly beneficial, essential to the health of global ecosystems and the balance of nature by providing vital ecological services in the forms of insect pest consumption, plant pollination, and seed dispersal.

Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight, representing the second largest order of mammal – after rodents – with more than 1,400 species dispersed across tropical and temperate habitats and six continents, absent only from the polar regions and a few isolated islands. Present-day bats have evolved over more than 50 million years and listed in the Order Chiroptera – a Greek name inferring “hand wing” due to the evolutionary modifications of their elongated digits, or fingers. Like our own hand, a bat’s wing is highly manipulative and versatile, allowing it to capture small, flying prey on the wing. Another particularly unique attribute of bats is their use of echolocation to navigate and to locate food and water. Their calls vary by species in duration and structure and reveal much about the ecology and foraging strategy of each species.

Bats are divided into two major groups, with one group, Megachiroptera, primarily feeding on fruit, nectar or pollen. The second group, Microchiroptera, are more familiar to us here in Maine and insectivorous, with some specialized to eat more carnivorous diets, feeding on rodents, other bats, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and even fish… truth be told, only three of the 1,400+ worldwide species are vampire bats that drink blood.

Bats are also recognized for having one of the slowest reproductive rates for animals their size. Most bats in northeastern North America have only one pup a year, and many females do not breed until their second year. While this low reproductive rate is somewhat offset by a long life-span, often over 20 years, bats populations currently face a serious worldwide decline. Some challenges they face are endemic to their order, such as a slow gestation period and diseases like White-nose Syndrome. The primary cause of their decline however, remains directly tied to human activity and involves the ongoing destruction of natural habitats, accelerated climate change, invasive species, and in many regions, stresses such as hunting and persecution for sport and meat. They also suffer from a long-standing proliferation of harmful myths. Without concerted international action, their populations will continue to fall, driving many species to extinction.

White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a devastating fungal disease, responsible for the death of millions of bats in North America since first discovered in a single cave in New York in 2006.  It has since spread across the continent, having been confirmed in 38 states and eight Canadian provinces, with evidence the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, present in five additional states. Named for the telltale white fuzzy growth on the nose, ears, and wings of infected bats, WNS repeatedly rouses bats from hibernation, causing them to consume their winter fat stores — which often results in starvation before spring. Numerous hibernacula have been devastated with 90 to 100 percent mortality rates. To date, 12 North American bat species have been confirmed with WNS, including two federally endangered species, the Gray bat and Indiana bat. Three species in particular – Northern long-eared, Little brown, and Tri-colored bats – have been most profoundly affected. The Northern long-eared bat was listed as federally threatened due to the rapid decline of this species from WNS. It continues to cause massive population declines for multiple hibernating bat species – resulting in one of the most significant losses to wildlife in the past century.

Maine has eight species of bats. Five of those – Big brown bat, Little brown bat, Northern long-eared bat, Eastern small-footed bat, and Tri-colored bathibernate during Maine’s winter months. The remaining three species – Eastern red bat, Silver-haired bat, and Hoary bat – are often referred to as tree bats and migrate south for the winter. WNS was first observed in 2010. Since then, populations of all five hibernating species in Maine have been profoundly affected by WNS.

Our own research on the seasonal presence of bats in Maine began in 2004 and involved use of specialized acoustic recording equipment that enabled remote, site-specific, and time-stamped collection of individual bat echolocations on a 24/7 basis. A subsequent analysis of sonograms from the echolocation recordings was then used to identify each call by species. The collection of these data was accomplished by deploying battery operated acoustic detectors in targeted, often remote, habitats across much of the northeast, as well as coastal offshore locations, with each detector unit continuously recording calls over long-term seasonal periods. The date and time of each individual recording was included with the call data, enabling a subsequent analysis that – when viewed in context with multiples of other units deployed in a wide variety of habitats – began to provide a telling tale of the activities of our nocturnal neighbors. Even more telling and powerful was the same analysis and data comparisons when compared with recorded weather variables such as temperature, wind speed/ direction collected at the time of each call. The accumulation of these data ultimately resulted in an assemblage of tens of thousands of individual data points over the course of a single year, enabling a better understanding of activity trends of individual species over the course of a single night, season, or even year.

The recent influence of WNS on Maine bat populations has been sobering. An analysis of species occurrence from 2004 to the present clearly depicts a dramatic population decline of Maine’s non-hibernating species. Where formerly the Little brown bat was the most common bat species across the northeast landscape, it is now virtually absent. At the same time, our data reveal that the formerly common – but by no means dominant – Big brown bat is now a dominant species, despite the fact each occupies a different ecological niche. Whether such a fundamental shift in species composition has been due to the Big brown’s ability to expand into a habitat previously occupied by Little brown bats, or whether it’s because of a loss or shifting of insect prey due to climate change or increased pesticides, remains unknown. As importantly, the ecological effects of such a consequential shift and the almost total loss of one of the most common residents of the nocturnal landscape, has not yet even begun to be understood.

A better understanding and respect of the habits and resource needs of our night time friends will go a long way towards helping to turn around the ongoing population declines. More information regarding the habits and habitats of Maine’s bats, as well as those of species around the world, and how we might best conserve these species, can be found at www.batcon.org.

You can also check out this great video from Maine Fish & Wildlife:

Photo: Tricolored Bat, J. Scott Altenbach (batcon.org)

Thank You Jane!

by Julia St.Clair, BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator

Jane with a group of Common Good Garden Volunteers

As the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG) is wrapping up the 2022 growing season, we would like to take this opportunity to give a huge shout out to our summer Environmental Studies Fellow from Bowdoin College, Jane Olsen! 

Jane dug in right away, coming to the Garden with little gardening experience, but quickly learning while working alongside other gardeners in the TSCG community. Jane even had the chance to tend her own plot at TSCG, successfully growing leeks, carrots, herbs, and a seemingly endless bounty of tomatoes! Jane brought her passion for building community and love for the outdoors to TSCG.

Jane working on Orchard research with Glenn Wildes

Over the summer, Jane worked alongside volunteers in the Common Good Garden, supporting and leading weekly workdays. She also joined the volunteer team supporting the New Mainers garden at TSCG, adding an extra set of hands to support this ambitious project. Additionally, Jane spent the summer researching and chatting with local experts about orchard care, drafting up an orchard care and maintenance plan for the TSCG orchard and learning more about the history of how these blueberry bushes, peach trees, and apple trees came to grow at TSCG. 

As an avid writer, Jane tackled a personal project while working at TSCG: interviewing and profiling a handful of TSCG plot holders from new to longtime gardeners. Her articles tell the stories of garden community members and offer the advice they shared for interested gardeners. These stories put faces to some of the many plots in the garden, reminding us just how many hands go into growing TSCG. In these articles Jane also highlights many of the different growing styles and gardening knowledge backgrounds that TSCG gardeners bring to the space. You can check out her articles on the BTLT blog

Jane with MCHPP Fellow Liliana and BTLT intern Cora

Collaborating with a Bowdoin Fellow from Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, Liliana, and BTLT intern Cora, Jane worked to plan and host a successful volunteer appreciation event at the Garden. The event included live music, treats from Wild Oats and Mere Point Oyster Co, and a raffle for volunteers. Jane also returned this fall to volunteer in the Common Good Garden and helped host the Garden’s annual-ish ‘Plot Luck’ event with members from across the garden community.

We are so grateful to have had Jane join us this past summer and we hope that she will continue to expand her gardening knowledge. We wish her the best of luck with her continued studies at Bowdoin and hope that she will come back to visit us at TSCG often!

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.

Public Comments welcome for Reaccreditation Process

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is pleased to announce it is applying for renewal of accreditation! The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, conducts an extensive review of each applicant’s policies and programs. This program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on pending applications. The public comment period is now open! Comments must relate to how we comply with national quality standards. These standards address the ethical and technical operation of a land trust. For the full list of standards or to learn more about the accreditation program, visit the Land Trust Accreditation website. Comments will be most useful before December 31, 2022.

Public comments can be submitted in one of three ways:

  • Fill out their online form by clicking here
  • Email info@landtrustaccreditation.org
  • Comments can be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission
    • Attn: Public Comments: 
    • (fax) 518-587-3183
    • (mail) 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Thank you in advance for your comments and participation in this important process!

Trees at Maquoit Bay – Dennis Tefft

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.