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 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.”
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.
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.”
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. “
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.