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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.

Master Gardener Volunteers Dig In at the Common Good Garden

Earlier this month, a small group of Master Gardener volunteers joined us in the Common Good Garden as part of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Work Day. The Common Good Garden is a section of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden that is run by Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust staff, alongside a dedicated group of volunteers, growing produce for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program

Common Good Garden volunteer Judith Long led this group of Master Gardeners along with Common Good Garden volunteers Harriet and Hope. They dug in, prepping the carrot bed, getting the beds laid out, the soil turned, and getting several rows of carrot seeds planted in the ground. Some of these carrots have already sprouted! An incident with the water system didn’t deter this group from finishing their work who showed resilience, creativity, and persistence on the hot and sunny day they spent working in the garden.

We are so grateful to have Master Gardener Volunteers join us in the Garden and grateful to our dedicated group of Common Good Garden volunteers who have a passion for keeping our community fed. If you are interested in volunteering in the Common Good Garden, you can learn more here.

Big thank you to all who helped out!!! We couldn’t do it without you.

Photos by Judith Long.

New Mainer Garden gets a New Shed!

Rarely has BTLT seen such an outpouring of support for a new program as for the New Mainers Garden. This spring, that dramatic community support continued when Brunswick Coastal Rotary and Topsham Expresso Rotary (and friends) came together to build a much-needed garden shed for the project.

“Everything needed for the New Mainer’s garden has been stored in the back entryway to our office, and it wasn’t good for the equipment, nor was it very convenient for entering the building,” said BTLT Associate Director, Lee Cataldo. “This shed is going to make the whole project more sustainable for everyone!”

This shed will be a place to keep the tools, hoses, and other supplies for this small community garden, created for and managed by Brunswick Landing’s New Mainer community.

Over the winter, Lucy Lloyd of Brunswick Coastal Rotary reached out to BTLT to see if perhaps there was another project they might collaborate on – after the Rotarians designed and built a pergola and swing for the Tom Settlemire Community Garden in 2021. It all came together perfectly – the Rotarians were hoping to find a way to support the New Mainers, and BTLT really needed help constructing a shed. The material costs were covered by remaining funds from the 2021 crowdsource effort.

The Rotarians, BTLT, and the New Mainers look forward to celebrating the new shed and the Garden with a small potluck in June.

A huge thank you to all the Rotarians and many donors who made this project possible!

BTLT In the News: “Keeping Up with a Fast Growing Multilingual Learner Population: Merrymeeting’s Story”

News Provided By Maine Department of Education

Keeping Up with a Fast Growing Multilingual Learner Population: Merrymeeting’s Story

This article was written by Paul Elisha, Academic Counselor for Merrymeeting Adult Education

When I first started working as the Academic Counselor at Merrymeeting Adult Education in 2010, our Multilingual Learner (formerly referred to as English Language Learner [ELL] or English Learner [EL]) program consisted of one English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class, one teacher, and about eight students. For the next nine years, our ESOL program fluctuated from 5 to 20 students, one to three teachers, and one to three classes. So in the fall of 2019, when I received a call from Carol Kalajainen of the Midcoast New Mainers Group saying they had about 30 asylum seekers coming to the Brunswick area who were in need of ESOL classes, I panicked inside.

Up until that phone call with Carol, I had never heard of the Midcoast New Mainers Group. I quickly discovered that they are a non-profit, faith-based group of volunteers committed to helping New Mainers get the resources and support they need to reach sustainability and establish a sense of belonging in the local community. They were eager to get the wave of asylum seekers coming to the Brunswick area connected with free English classes as soon as possible. Our first problem, however, was that none of the asylum seekers had reliable transportation to get to our classes in Topsham or Bath. When it became evident that a majority of them were moving into housing on the Brunswick Landing near the Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) Midcoast Campus, we reached out to our partners over there. They graciously provided free classroom space in the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) Brunswick Center.

We immediately utilized the space at UMA Brunswick to do intakes, advising, CASAS testing, and classes with students. The location was ideal, but within a couple of weeks we found ourselves on the brink of being removed from campus due to one big issue: noise control. The asylum seeking families had no childcare set up, so they were bringing their young toddlers and babies to class. While UMA and SMCC were conducting college classes in the building, little kids were running around playing and yelling to each other in the lobby and moms were consoling screaming babies in the hallways.

Carol and I brainstormed the situation and the Midcoast New Mainers Group stepped in to help these families access childcare at the local Head Start and other daycares in the area. Carol and I remained in constant communication to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that classes were held during times that families had access to childcare.

As an additional resource, we were able to utilize Midcoast Literacy, a non-profit organization in Bath that provides free literacy education. Midcoast Literacy connected all of our new Multilingual Learner students with an English tutor. Arrangements were made for tutors and students to meet on the SMCC Midcoast Campus or at Curtis Memorial Library to ensure that tutoring sessions were within walking distance from where most of the asylum seekers lived.

Just as it seemed we were starting to get our feet under us in being able to serve an Multilingual Learner population three times bigger than what we were used to, COVID-19 hit. With an amazing display of flexibility, patience, and creativity, our ESOL teachers dove into conducting their classes over Zoom. The Midcoast New Mainers Group worked with both Midcoast Literacy and Bowdoin College to provide refurbished computers, laptops or tablets/iPADS to asylum seekers for them to connect with our classes and their Midcoast Literacy tutors online.

Over time, as things gradually opened back up from the pandemic, Kelli Park, one of our ESOL teachers, helped get our Multilingual Learner families outside and connected to the community. She partnered with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust to hold outdoor potlucks and community gatherings on the Brunswick Landing (conveniently located near where a lot of our Multilingual Learner families live). This has encouraged a lot of our Multilingual Learner students to dive into learning English by immersion as they share conversation, food, music and games with each other.

As more asylum seeking families and refugees from Afghanistan move into the Brunswick area, Merrymeeting Adult Education continues to seek ways that we can grow our ESOL programming. We currently offer 10 different ESOL classes from the Beginner to Advanced levels (three of them are in-person at the UMA Brunswick Center and seven are on Zoom). We hold two in-person Accent classes at our Topsham center for Intermediate and Advanced Multilingual Learner students. Plus, we are running for the first time this April an Multilingual Learner Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Preparation Course and Northstar Digital Literacy Course for Intermediate and Advanced Multilingual Learner students interested in becoming a CNA and/or enhancing their computer skills for the workforce.

Now, in addition to having seven ESOL teachers on staff, we have also hired an interpreter, Benedita Kakhuba, who is fluent in English, Portuguese, French, Lingala and Spanish. Benedita and her family are asylum seekers from Angola. Back in the 20-21 school year, she went through our Maine College & Career Access Program to gain acceptance into Southern Maine Community College, where she currently attends part-time. As Benedita takes classes toward a degree in Business Administration, she works for us and for the Immigration Resource Center of Maine as their Housing Assistance Specialist to provide language assistance and cultural brokering services for New Mainers applying for the emergency rental assistance program. Her linguistic skills and passion for helping New Mainers gain opportunities to increase their English language skills has greatly enhanced our ESOL programming.

The Midcoast New Mainers Group continues to support our Multilingual Learner students by coordinating volunteer transportation to and from our Topsham and Bath locations for intakes, academic advising, and CASAS testing appointments. In addition, the Midcoast New Mainers Group has provided funds for our Multilingual Learner students to have their high school diplomas officially translated into English, which is often the first step toward accessing college or specific job opportunities. Plus, they have partnered with a dozen or so businesses in the Brunswick area who are committed to hiring New Mainers as soon as they receive their work permits.

When I received that initial call from Carol Kalajainen back in 2019, I had no idea how we were going to meet the academic needs of a Multilingual Learner population which was three times the size of what we were used to. I did not feel ready. Looking back, I realize that if it wasn’t for the Midcoast New Mainers Group, Midcoast Literacy, UMA Brunswick, SMCC, Curtis Memorial Library, Bowdoin College, Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, the many businesses in our area committed to providing jobs for our Multilingual Learner students, and the flexibility, ingenuity, hard work and passion of the teachers and staff at Merrymeeting Adult Education, we would not be where we are today. I have learned that it is important to tap into every resource our community has to offer when serving our students. I’m incredibly grateful for all of our local partners and community members who have stepped up to help our New Mainers feel welcome and at home here in Brunswick, Maine.

To read the full article online, click here. 

Featured photo taken at New Mainer Heritage Harvest Pot Luck in October 2021. 

New Mainers Garden a Blooming Success

Since we built ten raised garden beds for our New Mainer neighbors back in June, they have been well utilized and well loved!

Ana, Wewe, & Erica – photo by Kelli Park

ESL educator Kelli Park, who’s been working with the New Mainers for years, remarks: “The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Community Garden is so much more than just a garden. It offers a space for multicultural individuals to embrace their dynamic cultural identities by participating in traditions that were important to them in their lives in their native countries, while working toward building new traditions in their lives in Maine.

This space provides a foundation for New Mainers to construct their new, changing cultural identities in ways that empower them.

It provides the tools to work toward increased independence, while building a sense of community in healthy ways that connect to all aspects of their daily lives with cultivating and cooking.

Ana & Wewe’s children – photo by Kelli Park

“The creation of these kinds of spaces is absolutely essential in the work toward creating more equitable opportunities for individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Maine has the potential to leverage and cultivate multiculturalism within our communities to develop a new kind of dynamic population defined, in part, by the cultural influences that have arrived in our state from the far reaches of the globe. The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Community Garden for New Mainers is just one step in the right direction!”

Here’s what the New Mainers have to say…

Sivi – “I am really delighted because it helps us a lot to have very fresh produce and it’s good for the community. It helps my household in particular and it helps neighbors in the community. The community garden makes us independent in the sense that, if you need anything, you can harvest it directly.” 

Wewe – “I’m very thankful that the community gave us this space for the garden. I’m very happy to have planted vegetables because I like natural food a lot. The garden has made me more independent because, for example, if I need tomatoes, I go directly to my garden to get them. I don’t have to call anyone to help me get them.”

Bella – “There is nothing not to like about the community garden. I like planting. It’s very important to me. We Africans also like to cultivate so it is very important for the community. I can be independent with my own garden because I could grow whatever I want. . .Because I could plant the same things in the garden, like kikaza, [sweet] potato vines, gimboa, keca, and much more, it represents or connects to my life in Africa.”

Wewe & Blaise – photo by Kelli Park

Taking Root Blossoms BIG

The return of the Taking Root Plant Sale this spring (after a Covid hiatus in 2020) was a huge success, breaking records both for number of plants sold and funds raised. This fundraiser is the Land Trust’s biggest fundraiser of the year and covers all of the day-to-day operating expenses for our Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG), which includes 80 plots for community members, a large area where volunteers grow food for the clients of Mid Coast Hunger Prevention, as well as several community partnerships and research efforts.

Last Saturday morning, there were over 2,000 beautiful plants filling the Exhibition Hall at the Topsham Fairgrounds, and in just a few short hours all but about 75 of them were gone. Hundreds of community members came to the sale, with the checkout line extending through the hall by around 10 am.

But really, the most wonderful part of the morning, was the HUGE outpouring of volunteer support.

The sale is run by an amazing lead team who start their planning for next year just weeks after the sale. They oversee every aspect of the sale, from dividing and growing plants at TSCG, to bringing in and preparing donations from the community, to managing site logistics, volunteers, and so very much more. In addition to that, dozens of volunteers coordinate major areas of the sale – everything from parking to sales to trees and shrubs.

In the days leading up to the sale and on the day of, dozens more volunteers show up to move plants, set up tables, direct traffic, and the list goes on. Arriving at the sale in a crowded parking lot baking in the hot sun, visitors were greeted by smiling faces helping them find their way. The hall sported “plant experts” in yellow aprons helping buyers chose just the right plants for their yard. As you left the hall with a tray laden with plants, volunteers literally vied with one another to help you check out, while others pressed offers of help with carrying, and wagons for your load.

It’s really an amazing experience, especially when you realize that essentially every aspect was coordinated and completed by a volunteer, and every smiling face helping you with your purchase was a volunteer.

So, BTLT wants to say THANK YOU – to the community members that donated plants, to the community members that came to purchase plants, AND to the community members who have volunteered so many hours to bring the two together.

The sale isn’t “complete” when the hall is emptied, or all those roots are settled into soil. There are ripple effects that just go on and on, as the funds raised are able to support so much good at TSCG. For that we are particularly grateful.

*Photos by Burke Long

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