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.

Celebrating National Farmers’ Market Week!

Join us this Saturday at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm to celebrate National Farmers’ Market Week! Now in its 23rd year, National Farmers Market Week is an annual celebration that highlights the vital role farmers markets play in the nation’s food system. Amidst global change, it is now more important than ever to showcase the importance of farmers markets in our communities.

A key aspect of our mission as an organization is supporting local agriculture and commitment to strengthening our local food system. The BTLT Saturday Market plays an integral part in building community relationships around food and supporting our local agriculture, aquaculture, bakers, makers, and producers!

Be sure to stop by the BTLT info booth to enter our raffle or pick up a new scavenger hunt for the kiddos! We will be raffling off some fun prizes including BTLT merch, vouchers to spend at the Market, and tickets to the Common Ground Fair. To enter the raffle, simply head to the BTLT booth to have a photo taken of the goodies you got at the Market, and fill out a raffle ticket.

Plus, we are very excited that our incredible Market poster artist, Addy Wagner will be popping up on Saturday to sell some of her awesome prints. Be sure to stop by her tent to see her work!

Why celebrate National Farmers Market Week?* 

  • Farmers Markets are key for community food access. Since 2017, farmers market and direct marketing farmer redemptions of SNAP benefits have increased by 162 percent.
  • Farmers markets are the future of local food. Farmers markets are business incubators for young farmers; they provide one of the only low-barrier entry points for new farmers, ranchers, and food entrepreneurs allowing them to start small and test new products.
  • Farmers markets fuel local economies. In 2020, approximately 78% of farms selling directly to customers sold all of their directly marketed food within a 100-mile radius of the farm.
  • Farmers markets support conservation, connection and education. Research indicates that by facilitating farmer to consumer interactions, farmers markets shift both purchasing habits of consumers and the growing practices of farmers, leading to the adoption of more sustainable practices.

*Statistics from Farmers Market Coalition 

Be sure to thank all your favorite farmers, makers, and bakers this week for being a part of this incredible farmers market and our local food community! There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into making this Farmers’ Market happen. We thank our vendors, shoppers, volunteers, and BTLT members for their support! Want to learn more about supporting your local farmers’ markets? Check out this blog post.

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Saturday Farmers’ Market runs every Saturday at Crystal Spring Farm from 8:30am-12:30pm from May through October. 

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Jennifer & Bill Mason, Rachel Debasitis

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. As a new member of this gardening community, 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. Recently, I spoke with Rachel Debastis, a first time plot holder this year, who happens to be cultivating a plot previously owned by Bill and Jennifer Mason. The Masons have been plot holders since the start of TCSG, in 2012, and recently shifted their gardening space to a pair of raised beds across the Garden.

Jennifer and Bill Mason

Jennifer & Bill Mason

“It’s a great story. The year we moved back, we’re at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, and I got this tap on my shoulder. And this guy looked at me and he said, ‘Bill Mason, I’ve got something you’ve got to get involved with: the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’ – and of course it was Tom Settlemire,” said Bill.

Sitting across from me at the picnic table in the Garden, Bill and Jennifer Mason told me the story of their involvement at the Land Trust, sharing memories from the start of the Garden over ten years ago. 

“Early with the Land Trust, Linton Studdiford tapped me and some other people and said, ‘I think we really ought to start a community garden of some kind.’ We had our own garden, and our own house and then from there we moved several times so we didn’t have the biggest garden, we were so ready.”

Prior to moving back to Maine upon retirement, Jen and Bill had lived in various places around the state, but have since appreciated the time they now have to spend outside. 

“It’s so rewarding. We both had administrative jobs and had very little in the way of manual labor. And when you dig in, you get involved. That’s what’s so wonderful about this community because you share. You know, it’s volumes of knowledge that you just live with,” Bill shared. 

As someone new to the Garden, I am particularly interested in the history of this community and how it has come together over the years. While the Garden now includes over 80 plots, maintains a compost station, and a detailed irrigation system, when it started it was very simple. 

Bill explained, “In the beginning, people weren’t sure what they were doing. It was all from scratch. We’ve learned a lot from each other. The best symbol for this Garden’s start is that little pink hand pump over there next to the shed. That was the only source of water we had when we started and we only had a little compost bin. Little by little they’ve added all those other things going on, everybody started their own ideas and people built things. And it’s what it is today, which we are thrilled with,.”

While the Masons had varying experiences with gardening growing up, both agreed it was an important part of their upbringing. Jen explained to me that gardening was all she’s ever known, and that growing up her father had an “enormous” garden that fed her five person family. While Bill didn’t have a plot of his own growing up, every summer as a child he went to a neighbor’s house and helped tend to their garden. Because gardening has such a large presence in their lives, I was curious as to what their favorite part about gardening is. Both of them returned to the soil itself…

“We love to be of the earth. It’s great fun. I love the preparation and getting the compost mixed in and then drawing your lines for the seeds and working in the garden itself,” said Bill.

Jennifer bounced off of this sentiment, appreciating the visual changes that cultivating the earth creates; “The most amazing part is that we come almost every other day at least and the change in the garden is amazing. We have a 93 year old friend, who eats much of the food in our garden who wants to paint and highlight the change and we’re so excited to bring her here soon.” 

After eight years of gardening at the same plot, Ben and Jennifer moved to a pair of raised beds across the Garden last year. But the legacy of their original plot holds strong in the hands of a first time plot holder: Rachel Debasitis.

 

Rachel Debasitis

Rachel Debasitis

I first met Rachel at the Garden to chat during the height of a quick summer rainstorm.

She greeted me in the tool shed with some snap peas for us to share, her willingness to brave the rain reflecting an eagerness to connect to our community. 

This is the first year that both Rachel and myself have a plot at the Garden, and while I am a rookie, Rachel’s experience originates from childhood memories of watching her mother garden. After she graduated college, she took her pursuit of the hobby into her own hands.

“I don’t know why I felt the need, I just wanted to and of course I [planted] really badly in terms of spacing and my understanding of the difference between perennials and annuals, but then I gradually got really into it.”

After some time experimenting, many plotholders in the Garden now know Rachel for the red plastic contraptions in her plot, what she calls her “tomato halos,” from the Garden Supply in Vermont. Not only do the tomatoes respond well to the vibrant color of these red structures, they uphold small reservoirs of water around the plants to allow for consistent watering. For Rachel, this product is just one of the ways she is “playing” and trying out different techniques to best support her plants. 

Innovative cultivation approaches like Rachel’s spark conversations around the Garden; it often feels as though the whole community is invested in not only the various strategies of the collective but also the successes and failures of their neighbors. Although Rachel expressed that she often comes to the Garden to recharge with peace and quiet, she also emphasized that the community aspect brings her joy…

“I like talking to other people interested in the same thing. I like just asking people about why they’re doing what they’re doing and you know, seeing the difference? Because there isn’t one right way to garden. There’s some wrong ways. But there are also things that I haven’t thought about, which is kind of neat. You can also see what does well here and what doesn’t.”

Ultimately, Rachel expressed that when it comes down to it, what draws her to the Garden is very simple:

“I think it’s a feel good thing, it’s just so satisfying. I’m being productive and having fun. And I’m getting exercise, all of which is good for you. Sometimes I will just at the end of my work time just kind of zigzag around the Garden and see what’s going on. I’ve been sort of learning by watching and I plan to keep coming back for as long as I live here.”

From Rachel, a first time plot holder curious about the future of the Garden, to Bill and Jennifer, who know the history of this space like the back of their hand, the Tom Settlemire Community Garden is filled with collective knowledge and inclusive energy. 

 

Bill and Jennifer’s Advice for a New Gardner: “Start simple. People have grandiose ideas when they first get the garden, I think managing a couple of plantings makes all the difference. And you can grow into more.”

Rachel’s Advice for a New Gardener: “Watch what other people are doing and talk to them. If you’re gardening on your own, don’t put things too close together. Yeah, it looks sparse to start, but it does not stay sparse. My garden is really quite densely planted, but I have the time to keep an eye on it. And keep it very clear of weeds and things like that.”

Bill and Jennifer’s Recipes: “We’ve been eating red lettuce for a week or two and it’s such a good salad. We do Big Beef for sandwiches, salads, casseroles and spaghetti sauces. Peppers, tomatoes and onions go into spaghetti sauce for the whole year. If we have 10 tomatoes and we know we can eat two or three, then we have neighbors. And if the neighbors don’t need any more, then we’ll donate.” 

“One of our favorite recipes is with zucchini and summer squash. These raised gardens aren’t quite big enough for squash so we go to the Farmers’ Market to give them some business. But yeah, so it’s zucchini and summer squash, potatoes, onions, cheddar cheese and bread crumbs on top, And there’s a ton of juice in zucchinis. And cook it for an hour at 350 and it’s delicious.”

Rachel’s Recipes: Rachel had many recipes to share, from the “burst of summer,” packed within a dehydrated tomato to the “life changing” way that soy sauce and sesame oil can amplify a tomato’s freshness. Perhaps her most exciting recipe involves hot peppers:

“Two years ago I had so many, I crumbled them up in the food processor and actually gave a full pint jar to my father and brother as a Christmas present. My father still raves about it. Oh my god, it’s so much better than the stuff on the shelf. And he likes it because he doesn’t cook at all. So it works out very nicely. I’m hopeful for a good pepper season but we’ll see what happens.”

 

Stay tuned for lots more Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight interviews in the coming weeks!

Love Your Local Market

Did you know that Greater Brunswick is home to five farmers markets? They are such an incredible resource for local eaters, and the farms and food producers of the region. Each market is run by a different organization, or group of vendors, which means that there are various ways of supporting each one. Click here to learn more about the individual markets of the region.

Regardless of which market(s) you call your own, or if you’re visiting markets while traveling, here are some easy ways to support them:

  • Shop at markets often! Get to know your farmers, fishermen and food producers.
  • Shop the whole market (meat, veggies, cheese, prepared foods, etc.) and try new foods often.
  • If it’s in season, purchase it at the farmers’ market. Click here to see what’s in season, and some fun accompanying recipes. 
  • Volunteer at the SNAP booth or information booth at your favorite markets. All markets in our region need volunteers right now – reach out via email to let them know you’d like to get involved!
    • Brunswick-Topsham Land Trusts’ Saturday Market at Crystal Spring Farm – market@btlt.org
    • Brunswick Farmers Market – brunswickfmvolunteer@gmail.com
    • Bath Farmers Market – haagpw@gmail.com
    • Bowdoinham Farmers Market – bowdoinhamfoodpantry@gmail.com
    • Brunswick Winter Market, jamison.pacheco@gmail.com
  • Invite your friends and family to the market with you.
  • Donate to the market to help offset the operating cost or purchase market merchandise (hats, bags, shirts, etc). Most markets are run by a host of folks volunteering their time and resources.
  • Bring your own shopping bags and produce bags. And return plant pots, egg crates, onion bags, etc.
  • Talk to your employer about adding farmers markets to their employee wellness plan. Maine has a program called BumperCrop run by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.

Eating locally is a wonderful way to support the local economy, your community, and a healthy environment through sustainable farming and food production. Get eating folks!

BTLT In the News: “Connect to past and present at the Cathance River Nature Preserve”

The Bowdoin Orient

Connect to past and present at the Cathance River Nature Preserve
By Jane Olsen (The Bowdoin Orient)

A visit to the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham will allow you to consider the past, the future and how to stay grounded in the present. Only a 10-minute drive from campus, the preserve features miles of riverside trails winding through growing forests. It is unlikely you will cross paths with many others.

When following the directions to the trailhead, you may be confused as to why you’re being guided through the Highlands Retirement Community. At first, I thought I was going to the wrong place because the trailhead is easy to miss and the adjacent parking lot only fits about five cars (if squeezed in at an angle to the road). But the waves of Highlands residents on their daily walks are a reminder that a sense of community extends beyond the spaces of Bowdoin’s physical campus.

The Preserve offers enough trails to explore for hours, but it is equally beautiful if you only have a few minutes to spare. This visit, I decided to walk down the staircase next to the parking lot and continue until I reached the Highland trail, passing through the vernal pools.

From this point, the path to the river is no more than 10 minutes. After a semester of shuffling my feet on the ice across campus, stepping over small patches of mud was a welcome surprise. As I moved closer to the river, an abundance of green moss on the forest floor creeped up on me.

The light flickered brighter in the areas where young saplings have yet to grow, and in areas with white pines thick with age, only a few sunbeams pass through their needles. This forest is not uniform and the path is not straight—mimicking the collision of many generations.

After scanning a QR code posted on one of the saplings, I realize that the code is one of many scattered throughout the trails of the Preserve. The codes are a part of a “Self-Guided Adventure” initiative by the Cathance River Education Alliance, a nonprofit environmental and educational organization. Walking down the trail, this network of codes invites me to pay attention to my surroundings and reminds me of the Alliance’s efforts to further community engagement.

One QR code attributes the diversity of tree ages in the forest to a scattered timeline of logging on the land, explaining that the younger saplings were planted after the most recent logging efforts in the 1990s. The history of logging in Maine seems inextricable from our natural surroundings, reminding visitors to admire and support the conservation efforts from organizations like the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

These woods offer physical distance from a busy life and a chance to appreciate connections across generations, whether that be ecologically or socially. When I arrive at the river, the faint sound of the gentle water and a soothing canopy of shade returns me to the present moment. As I watch the swell of the current beside me and after stepping away from a campus buzzing with youth and driving through a community of senior citizens, my sense of place is amplified.

This week, I saw the faces of my professors for the first time since arriving at Bowdoin last year. After two semesters without upperclass students on campus and the presence of Covid-19 constantly on my mind, I have longed for a sense of cross-generational cohesion in the Bowdoin community. With an ease of connection returning to campus, the links that bring us together feel stronger. The Cathance River Nature Preserve offers a chance to explore this sense of interrelation, or to simply enjoy the outdoors.

Winter Garden Workshop Recordings

Every winter, BTLT offers a series of workshops to engage with the community, support the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, and offer skill-building exercises for gardeners of all abilities. These workshops are a wonderful opportunity to learn from master gardeners and experts on a variety of gardening subjects. BTLT is proud to partner with Curtis Memorial Library for this event series. Please enjoy the recorded sessions of these wonderful workshops!

Click here for: Spring has Spawned: Getting Your Garden Ready for Mushroom Cultivation with Northspore

Every gardener in America should be growing mushrooms! If upgrading your garden this year sounds fun, join Louis Giller for an informative presentation on how to integrate mushrooms into your garden.

Click here for: How to Care for Fruit Trees with ReTreeUs

Join Richard Hodges of ReTreeUs for a workshop on how to integrate fruit trees into your garden. You will learn about different fruit trees, their needs and how to prune them.

Click here for: Growing and Fermenting Foods with Scratch Farm

Join Andy McLeod of Scratch Farm to learn about making your own fermented sauerkrauts, pickles and hot sauce. Andy will touch on what crops he grows to ferment, tips for success in growing those crops, the process of fermentation and the kitchen tools he has come to love.

Click here for: Soil Secrets with the Living Soil Network

Join Spiro Latchis of the Living Soil Network for a workshop on the many beneficial aspects of soil health. The workshop will cover the fungi and nematodes in soil, soil care, building quality soil and the important connections between soil and climate.

Loving the Land

Black History Month