Land Trust works to engage youth at Community Garden
BY LIZ PIERSON
“Mine’s got dirt on it!”
“Mine has two legs, like a funny little man!”
The first-time carrot harvesters — two nine-year-old boys — squealed with laughter. They beamed, held their carrots high, and knelt down to pull a few more.
It was a beautiful August day at Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Tom Settlemire Community Garden at Crystal Spring Farm. The carrot harvesters were 14 children and a few parents from Perryman Village Family Housing in Brunswick. Earlier this summer, with a grant from the Senter Fund, the Land Trust donated the lumber and soil for raised beds in front yards at the village. Land Trust staff and volunteers built the beds, and families helped fill and plant them with seedlings donated by several local farms.
Now, a group of these novice gardeners were touring the Land Trust’s own Community Garden. The group also picked peas, made their own wraps from local vegetables, and escaped the heat with a shady walk on a nearby Land Trust trail. Another group of Perryman kids had come to the garden in July.
For most of the kids, it was their first visit, but for a few, they proudly explained, it was old hat. In June, all of the first-graders at Brunswick’s Coffin Elementary School visited the garden to transplant 240 squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers they had started in their classrooms earlier in the spring. The squash harvest will be donated to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, and the sunflowers and pumpkins will be harvested this fall by Coffin students.
The new raised beds at Perryman Village are also producing food.
“They look amazing. And the kids are doing the bulk of the work in them,” the Land Trust’s Outreach and Education Coordinator Lee Cataldo said recently. “It’s so wonderful to see the kids so engaged and drawing their parents in with their excitement and pride.”
The project, now in its second year, resulted from a partnership between the Land Trust and Art- Van, a local nonprofit that promotes the arts in low-income communities.
“We started by doing some environmental art at Perryman, and the gardening idea grew from that,” Cataldo said. She sees the project as an opportunity to open new doors and share ideas about what can be done with a garden, by anyone. “Growing your own food is empowering. Every kids deserves to have that experience.”
The project also reflects the expanding role of the Land Trust’s garden as a community-wide resource. In addition to its 80 plots for community members, the garden includes a large plot where food is grown for MCHPP primarily by volunteers. This summer, Curtis Memorial Library is hosting a series of gardening workshops in their demonstration plots at the garden. One of the newest partners is Brunswick High School, which also has a large plot for the summer farm program it runs for at-risk students. With every new activity and workshop offered, the Land Trust believes the garden strengthens its ties in the community.
Cataldo expects the satellite project at Perryman Village to expand next year.
“There’s demand,” she said. “In the two days we were there installing the beds, a lot more families said they’d like one.” She also hopes to add more field trips, including to local farms and the Land Trust’s farmers market.
Now in its fourth decade, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust strives to provide a diverse array of programs that serve the needs of as many segments of the community as possible. As for those young carrot harvesters? Cataldo smiled broadly.
“They’re great,” she said. “Some may become gardeners and some won’t. But all of our work with kids is an investment in the next generation of land stewards and a healthy community.”
For more information on the Land Trust’s Tom Settlemire Community Garden, visit www.btlt.org/community-garden.