By Lily Hatrick,
Brunswick High School Student and 2020 Common Good Garden Intern
In an ongoing effort to support food access in greater Brunswick, the Common Good Garden (CGG) was able to donate 3,779 pounds of organic produce, despite Covid, a drought, and crop loss. The CGG, started in 2012 in partnership with Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP), is part of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG), run by the Brunswick-Topsham Landtrust (BTLT). In order to grow this food they depend on the engagement of TSCG community volunteers to plant, grow, care for, and harvest crops.
BTLT is a land trust that protects land in the Brunswick and Topsham area. They own Crystal Spring Farm and also run one of the largest summer farmer’s market in the state of Maine. Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program is a food access program that has been working in our community for nearly thirty years. They serve around 7,000 meals a week to people in need.
Over the course of the gardening season, the CGG had many accomplishments:
- The largest amount of produce to date was donated to MCHPP through the CGG.
- The volunteer crew was strengthened by a group of high schoolers and an internship position was created that high schoolers will be able to apply for in future years.
- Overall, the number of volunteers was also much larger this year than it has been in years past. This larger crew was able to tackle expanding the garden.
This season yielded the largest amount of produce donated to MCHPP to date. It was not an easy road to this accomplishment, as any member of the volunteer crew would tell you. There were both late and early frosts and some seedlings did not make it. The crew approximates that between 400 to 1,000 lbs of produce were lost. This summer was a very dry one, with exceedingly warm temperatures and little rainfall.
“There were times I would water a row and have to stop to go fill up the watering cans and come back and not know where I had already watered because it dried up/soaked in so fast!” says Jen Kennedy, CGG volunteer. Her help on the weekends was especially important because “we couldn’t rely on mother nature” she added.
This year’s volunteer crew leader Dev Culver also noted that “In the early part of the season the lack of rain along with issues with the irrigation system stunted the initial growth of the onion crop.” The volunteers had to deal with both a lack of rainfall but also faulty irrigation, making hand watering the only dependable option. Culver feels that, “Without the extra hands that we had, I don’t believe we would have been able to keep up with the lack of rain.”
Another obstacle that the members of the volunteer crew had to overcome was the pandemic. All volunteers wore masks and gloves for all of the work sessions and all tools were disinfected once they were done being used. The masks may have made the hot days hotter but, the hurdle united the crew even more.
The pandemic had a silver lining: The core group of volunteers expanded. Dev Culver remarked that the pandemic brought more people to the garden instead of keeping people home. “There were more volunteers available and interested in working on the CGG mission because the pandemic cut down on the availability of other activity options.” Kennedy found that she had more “free time” and wanted “a way to get involved in the community and volunteer” during this pandemic. Kennedy was not alone in this feeling as the volunteer crew grew this year.
In addition, the crew was joined by four high schoolers this year.
As schools closed in the early spring, the CGG was blessed by having several Brunswick High School students dedicate some of their free time to volunteering in the garden. Ultimately, they were able to create an internship with BTLT which hopefully means that a connection between TSCG can continue to grow for years to come.
Lydia Blood, Fiona Edmonds, Kate Shaughnessy, and Lily Hatrick became members of the core crew. Although none of them had prior knowledge, Culver notes that “their collective enthusiasm and willingness to work hard regardless of the assignment made the experience of volunteering so much more fun and rewarding.” Longtime volunteer and CGG cofounder Judith Long said it was a “pleasure” to be joined by the high schoolers.
This year was different from years past in other positive ways, too. The CGG has four main beds as well as a large back garden that was newly cultivated by CGG this season.
The addition of the back garden doubled the growing space for the CGG, adding about 5,000 square feet. The entirety of it had to be turned, mulched and prepared so that crops could be planted.
Not only did the poundage increase with this new area, the type of produce expanded as well. Culver says that the back garden “changed the original intended focus on storage crops and resulted in a markedly expanded crop variety.” In this garden the crew grew tomatoes, melons, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, and some squash. The back garden alone produced 681.7 lbs of the total produce donated. “None of these additional crops would have been possible if the CGG effort had remained anchored in the four front garden beds during 2020.” The CGG was also blessed by the donation of many seedlings, including from BTLT business partner Whatley Farm.
Because of the enthusiasm and grit of this year’s volunteer crew, the CGG was able to take on some new projects in addition to the expanded Common Good Garden. This year a pollinator garden and a hoop house were added to TSCG, and a plastic mulch experiment was conducted in the tomato bed. The pollinator garden serves as a pollinator-attractor bringing in insects such as bees and butterflies, but also moths, birds and bats. The hoop house has long been something that the volunteer crew wanted to tackle, but in prior years hasn’t had the resources. The hoop house will allow the Common Good Garden to produce early and late season greens for MCHPP, something they historically have not had access to.
MCHPP Foodbank Manager Ryan Ravenscroft says, “the Common Good Garden volunteers do an amazing job growing great produce for MCHPP to distribute within the community. We are very excited for the timely growing capacity the hoop house will provide, allowing the volunteers to grow much needed and appreciated greens and other produce during the shoulder seasons.” Culver and the crew are using kale plants this winter as a trial run and plan to expand the contents of the hoop house in future years.
In a stressful and scary year, the CGG and its crew were able to find some calm and fun moments while gardening. With the overarching goal of donating as much fresh and organic produce as possible, they worked with tricky weather and COVID precautions to make this year as successful as possible. Their multigenerational energy fueled a great season; one where the garden was able to grow and expand. The expansion led to more produce donated. The larger number of regular volunteers allowed for both a pollinator garden and a hoop house to be built. Both of these will be incorporated at the TSCG for years to come. The volunteer crew of the CGG had a great time this summer and cannot wait to do it all again next summer!