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Farmers’ Market Wraps up Another Stellar Season

by Julia St.Clair, BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator

Earlier this month we wrapped up our 2022 Farmers’ Market season at Crystal Spring Farm! We had such a busy and fabulous time each Saturday, and have already started planning for next year.

This season we had 34 vendors from around the region selling everything from heirloom tomatoes to traditionally fermented miso to knit wool socks to freshly roasted peppers. But what makes this Market so special is not just the great variety of products, but the sense of community; neighbors chatting, vendors sharing stories and answering questions, kids running around, folks listening to the live music, and even the occasional dancing.

We welcomed several new vendors this year who we hope will return again next year. Adrian from Empanada Club is already promising to work on some new recipes. Plus another one of these new vendors, GoGo Refill (the spot for low-waste sustainable home and body products), will soon be opening a shop right here in Brunswick!

At the kid’s table we introduced Beatrice the Golden Bee, a figurine who hung out with a different vendor each week, reminding us of the importance of pollination to our food system. Those who found her while at the Market were awarded stickers to take home. She was a hit with kiddos throughout the season, with several Market-regulars showing up each week to seek her out, racing back to the BTLT booth to claim their prize!

Our Farmers Market poster returned this year as well, featuring artwork from Addison Wagner, who works at Whatley Farm. The poster features her stunning pencil drawing of hands holding up kale, bringing art together with a love for local agriculture. Addison also joined us at the Market several weekends selling prints, alongside her partner, printmaker Anastasia Inciardi.

This year we are incredibly excited to share that the BTLT Farmers’ Market voted as the #1 Farmers’ Market in Maine during America’s Farmers Market Celebration hosted by the American Farmland Trust and the Farmers Market Coalition. We are thrilled to offer a space where all are welcome to engage with our local food system. A huge thank you to the vendors who show up each week with jokes and smiles and a shout out to all the volunteers throughout the season who make this fabulous Farmers’ Market possible! We can’t wait to see you all again out on the green at Crystal Spring Farm next spring!

 

Community in the Garden: Another Strong Season

by Julia St.Clair, Agricultural Programs Coordinator

CGG volunteers Claudia, Hope, and Janice preparing harvested onions for donation to MCHPP

Another successful growing season has wrapped up in the Common Good Garden (CGG). The Common Good Garden is a section of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden where produce is grown for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP). CGG is run by a dedicated group of volunteer gardeners who show up with a passion for feeding their community. You can read more about the work of the Common Good Garden here.

Throughout the 2022 growing season, we were able to donate over 2,500 pounds of produce to MCHPP for use in their kitchen and distribution via their pantry, including winter squash, green beans, leeks, carrots, and a variety of onions. Additionally, some of the CCG produce was donated to the local New Mainer community and was used in the BTLT fundraiser porch dinner series at Vessel and Vine this past month.

Through the Trees teen group at TSCG after a successful workday

We are lucky to have such a vibrant community around the garden – it would not nearly be as productive as it is without the commitment, hard work, and passion of the volunteers who showed up each week ready to plant, weed, deal with pests, or harvest a seemingly endless bounty of carrots. This past year we were also thrilled to have Jane Olsen, a Bowdoin Environmental Studies Fellow, join us for the summer and support CGG, working alongside volunteers each week. We also had support from other community groups, including a teen group from Through the Trees, who jumped right in, bringing a bounty of gardening knowledge, and helping us to prepare the squash beds for planting. We are grateful also for the generous donations of seedlings from Whatley Farm, Six River Farm, and other local gardeners. Many, many hands contributed to the success of CGG this season!

Volunteers Ron, Janice, Claudia, and Diana with the final harvest of produce ready for delivery to MCHPP

Tending the CGG this year was not without its challenges, including an unexpected frost, a delay in setting up irrigation correctly, a box of sad onion seedlings, and an aphid infestation in a row of squash, but such is the nature of gardening. Luckily, this volunteer team and other community members jumped in to support and problem-solve together. This growing season was also one of joy and surprise: a garter snake living in the squash patch; monarch caterpillars crawling around the carrots; and a pair of scissors lost in a bed at the start of the season recovered last week while cleaning up a plot. In the end, the CGG had another successful year and we are already ready to start planning for the next growing season!

The Common Good Garden volunteer crew meets twice a week on weekday mornings throughout the growing season to plant, tend, and harvest produce in the Common Good Garden. We are always looking for more hands in the Common Good Garden and so if you are interested in joining us as a volunteer next growing season, please sign up for the Tom Settlemire Community Garden newsletter by clicking here. Volunteers in CGG bring a variety of backgrounds and extensive collective gardening knowledge working collaboratively to problem solve in the garden. We have endless gratitude for this group of volunteers that contribute their time, knowledge, and physical labor to the success of CGG.

Once again we would like to share a huge THANK YOU to the CGG volunteer crew and invite you to join us next season!

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: John and Arabella Eldredge & Dan Kipp

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. I loved talking with neighboring plotholders, John and Arabella Eldredge and Dan Kipp, because while they share a pathway between their gardens, they each have unique approaches.

Arabella and John Eldredge

John & Arabella by their garden plot

John and Arabella Eldredge moved from Cumberland to Brunswick around seven years ago and immediately secured a plot at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. While they had their own larger garden for almost 25 years in Cumberland, they believe that “what they gave up in size, they made up for in community.”

Arabella was raised in Annapolis, Maryland, but she grew up visiting the Maine island Vinalhaven in the summer, cultivating a love of Maine from an early age. It was these summers where she began gardening in her parents’ family garden, a plot that Arabella and her siblings still collectively tend to. Not only did Arabella’s parents’ love for gardening foster her own interest, but her mother’s early interest in organic food also shaped her passion for cultivating her own crops.

While Arabella’s mom was ahead of her time in her appreciation of organic food throughout the 60s and 70s, John’s mom leaned into the era of convenience in the 50s and 60s. Throughout his New Hampshire upbringing, John’s family grew up eating packaged and processed foods. 

“You know, if you can throw some fish sticks in the oven, maybe a little bit of iceberg lettuce, you’re good. It’s funny you grow up with a certain set of norms and sometimes you adopt those and carry those for two generations and sometimes you rebel against them and do something very different.”

While John didn’t think twice about processed foods very much at the time, when he got to college he began discovering the benefits of fresh and natural food, eventually pursuing a career in the natural food and products industry. 

Today, John both volunteers at and is on the board of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. Working in the receiving area, he watches produce come in from Hannaford and Target, to Six River Farm, making him all the more appreciative for the community connection to the Common Good Garden at TSCG. John and Arabella also expressed their appreciation for the rising farming industry as a whole and the creative ways people are finding to add value to their farms. 

“Any opportunities that can be found to connect younger people to growing food is a great thing. We’re definitely seeing a new generation of young micro-farmers rather than just growing commodities. People are growing things organically or they’re actually doing a little bit of processing and finding ways to add value, so it’s very encouraging to see our farmland start to become productive again.”

In addition to appreciating TSCG’s role within the system of agriculture as a whole, John and Arabella expressed their love for the most basic joys of gardening. 

“You put things in and it’ll give back to you. I like eating fresh vegetables, but also not knowing what’s going to happen from year to year. It’s always different. I just like the surprise factor and the joy of eating.” said Arabella

“I’m the token occasional waterer, I really love the kind of the ceremony, but also just the noticeable freshness of being able to harvest your own vegetables and eat them right away, “said John. “It’s a really well designed space, has plenty of sunshine and attracts a lot of interesting people who have commonalities.” 

Easy access to this garden has allowed many Brunswick residents like the Eldredges to stay connected to their plot throughout the week, and between John and Arabella, they are at the garden four or five days of the week. While John has retired from a career of working in collegiate admissions, Arabella still works at the library in Cumberland. On her way to work she’ll stop by to give water to the seeds in the morning and then off she goes! Like many plot holders, John and Arabella expressed their enthusiasm for the change throughout the seasons of cultivation:

“You’ll have fun experiencing the evolution of the garden throughout the growing season. By the time you get into August it’s like Eden because the bird and butterfly life is awesome. It just keeps changing which is cool.”

Dan Kipp

This year Dan is growing watermelon, squash, mustard greens, beans, dahlias, marigolds, swiss chard and it’s his first year growing a tomato. Like many plot holders, he has found and transplanted some lettuce growing by the weed pit in the garden, and it is now thriving!

John and Arabella’s plot is right beside the plot of Dan Kipp who is originally from Massachusetts, but has been in Maine since 2014. While Dan grew up helping his mom in her garden, the practice has remained idyllic in his mind. Both growing his own food and having a project that’s outdoors are the biggest draws of gardening for him. 

When he first came to Maine he was living in Portland and the local farmers’ markets were one of the first stepping stones in encouraging him to return to gardening himself. When he moved to Brunswick he began researching community gardens and stumbled upon the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, where he first started gardening last year. 

“I remember being really anxious to plan it, wanting to make sure that I got it right. I put everything in by seed except for one lupin, already in bloom and put it right smack dab in the center. And I remember thinking okay, if none of these other seeds come up at least that lupin will” Dan shared. “Within a week the lupin was dead but on the plus side everything else came up so it was kind of funny.”

Whether a first time gardener has beginners luck like Dan, starting a plot from scratch can be nerve racking. Dan explained that although his successes of his first year have eased some of his anxieties, that every year in the garden brings new considerations and challenges:

“Last year everything went so well I almost expected it to be the same this year and this year that has not been the case…Even knowing it’s as simple as just water and weed, I was still worried about everything. Like, am I doing this right? Well this year I don’t feel that at all. So I think it’s really normal to feel it and once you start seeing stuff coming up already.”

Something that helped ease his initial anxiety was volunteering in the Common Good Garden, a portion of the TSCG grown by volunteers and donated to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. Before Dan planted anything in his garden he made sure to volunteer at the CGG workdays on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to observe the growing process elsewhere before trying it himself. The Common Good Garden is filled with expert and master gardeners who not only provide tremendous support to the cultivation efforts but have abundant knowledge to share.

When Dan is not at the garden he loves to read, listen to music, exercise, and hang out with his two chihuahuas. However, to protect the plants and to make sure everyone feels comfortable gardening at TSCG, dogs are not allowed inside the Garden. Though the garden is largely a free and open space, there are a few important rules to maintain its beauty and community use. For example, sunflowers are not allowed to be grown in the garden because they can shade neighboring plots and their seeds can attract pests like mice and chipmunks which like to munch on other plants once they are in the garden.

Dan expressed that while these rules in the garden are not ideal for how he would like to grow in the garden, he understands their purpose: “The dog rule is a hard one for me…and the sunflowers but those aren’t complaints, they’re just disappointing. I don’t like it, but it makes sense, I get it.” Working in a community garden is sometimes about compromise and balance.

When I asked Dan about his favorite parts of the garden, he mostly gravitated towards the feeling of the space, from the physical impact of getting in the dirt to the psychological benefits:

 “I do really like that swing by the picnic table because after crouching, I swing to flow and get a release. I really like physical movement generally, so I mostly enjoy the exercise part of [gardening] and encouraging growth. There’s like a giddy feeling that comes from when something’s first blooming yeah. I don’t know what that’s about, but I’ve talked to people who have been gardening their entire lives, they have said that to me as well, and that feeling doesn’t go away.”

From a range of experience to approaches to gardening, talking with Dan and John and Arabella revealed to me the wide range of gardeners we have in this space, with new and exciting stories just around the corner. 

Dan’s Advice for a New Gardener: “The biggest thing I learned last year is how much there is to know. I also wanted this year to be more slowed down, less in a rush and big sweeps and when I come here, not just water, but to slow down for a second, to observe and see the changes between days. Learn from just those observations a little bit more.”

Arabella and John’s Advice for a New Gardener: “My advice for gardening and anything else in life is to simply just start with a few things. Before you expand wildly, just know you really can’t control what nature is pointed to. I think sometimes it is just an experiment, you might discover something that nobody else has. The beauty of the community garden is you can ask anybody for a tip or advice and they’re happy to share it.”

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Peter Milligan & Marc Brown

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 (TSCG). 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. Recently, I spoke with Peter Milligan and Marc Brown, who have both been plot holders at TSCG for around four years. 

Peter Milligan

Peter Milligan

Peter Milligan was one of the first people to show me the meaning of a community garden. In my early days of gardening this summer, I was cluelessly picking brown tail caterpillars off of the apple trees in the orchard when Peter warned me of the risks and offered advice, revealing to me the benefit of collective knowledge. 

A couple weeks later, I got to know Peter over zoom. While he has been in the Brunswick area for over 20 years, Peter first came to the Tom Settlemire Community Garden four years ago, drawn to the space because of the sunlight that was largely absent in his own shady backyard. From the start, when he first assisted his parents in their garden, Peter fell in love with the simple pleasures of cultivation:

“Gardening is one way to take care of things and participate in the natural world that’s around me. I’m a nurturing person so I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching my garden grow, on some basic level,” said Peter.

This year, his time spent at the Garden means growing brassicas, peas, herbs, tomatoes and peppers. While he mostly eats the food that he grows, when the middle of August hits and he is overwhelmed with harvesting, he tends to share his produce and experiment with dehydrating. Simultaneous to experimenting, Peter advises gardeners not to take any failures to heart:

I would not get overly emotionally involved, if something doesn’t work. As soon as your neighbor gets a pest, you’re probably gonna get the same thing because everyone’s so close. But you can’t worry about it, take it in stride.”

As a biology professor at the University of Maine in Augusta Peter has dealt with virtual teaching for a while now and expressed his gratitude for time spent disconnected from a screen in the garden:

 “We’re all online with the headphones for six to seven hours a day, so when I go outside, I tend to leave it all behind. There’s a personal connection, something that you need as a human being, to have that sort of physical interaction with people, like, oh, we’re having a conversation in person. It scratches something about being human that connecting online doesn’t do. I think still, if you ask people what they’re missing is that kind of community and so I appreciate the people that sort of create that in the garden and maintain it.”

Marc Brown

Marc Brown’s garden plot

Similarly to Peter, his neighbor in the Garden, Marc Brown, came to the Garden for sunshine and found a community. As a previous resident of Bath, Marc and his family were accustomed to sunny days and their move to the woods of Brunswick brought with it shade, hindering plant growth. After four years at the Garden, Marc has observed that along with a full dose of sun comes his need to visit the Garden almost every day.

“I’ve learned, over the last few years, I thought like well, it should be fine. And then I come back and the weeds just take over. So even though it’s totally obvious, it’s taken this many years to be like I have to water just about every day. I have to come and check out what the weeds are up to every day.”

Not only is the Garden a community space for the plot holders themselves, but a gathering place for the community as a whole. One of Marc’s favorite things about gardening used to be coming to the Garden to pick snow peas and cherry tomatoes with his kids when they were younger. Nowadays, his youngest son will still accompany him to the Garden, and has even helped with the layout design of his garden plot. Although Marc has had mixed success experimenting with plants, he emphasized that regardless of various setbacks, he always appreciates simple time in the Garden:

“One of the things I do like about it is that it just kind of is, you know what I mean? The birds are chirping or the breezes blow. I like getting dirty and seeing stuff grow. It’s as simple as that.” 

While the Garden has always been a place of unity, the outdoor community space proved especially valuable throughout the many waves of Covid-19. Volunteer days at the Common Good Garden provided a safe place outdoors to connect and meant a lot to plot holders like Marc. 

“When Covid hit it was awesome to be able to do something outside that was consistent and stable. The other thing this year that kind of occurred to me is it’s just, it’s definitely a community garden. It’s got everything going on. There’s nothing exactly perfect or clean about it. But it’s a bunch of very different people coming together with a central focus. The garden has helped me to see that actually communities are pretty messy with lots of different personalities trying to figure it out.”

One of my favorite parts about talking to Peter and Marc separately was listening to their personal understandings of community, prompting me to appreciate how everyone brings their own values and perspectives together within one garden space.

BTLT Reports Preliminary Survey Results

This summer, we asked the community to give input on BTLT’s work. Angela Twitchell, BTLT’s Executive Director, reports that the response was very strong and overwhelmingly positive. “Members and nonmembers alike expressed a real interest in our work and had many valuable suggestions on how to broaden and deepen our impact,” Twitchell said.

The survey, intended to gauge community members’ knowledge of BTLT’s work and to learn how it can serve its members and community better, will take BTLT several months to analyze and begin to incorporate into its future plans. Survey Working Group leader Peter Simmons observes, however, that “conserving land is clearly our members’ highest priority, Crystal Spring Farm is our most popular property, and the Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm is our most popular program. Beyond that, we have much to learn from the survey about how to communicate better with our members and the public, how to get them out onto BTLT’s less well known public access properties, and how we might serve other community needs identified in the survey, like addressing climate change, increasing access for underserved members of our community, and providing more services for families and youth.”

BTLT plans to present a detailed report on the survey at the annual meeting on November 17 and to continue conversations with community organizations to determine how BTLT might partner with them to connect more area residents and underserved groups with BTLT’s conserved properties.

BTLT in the News, “Spring inspiration at Midcoast land trusts from Brunswick to Lincoln County”

Spring inspiration at Midcoast land trusts from Brunswick to Lincoln County

April 26, 2018

Local land trusts, including the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, are featured in the Coastal Journal for some exciting spring happenings. Read on to see how you can get involved this season!

There is no shortage of areas to explore along the Midcoast this spring, but local land trusts offer more than just trails. Each organization has its own focus and schedule of events coming up. Some are out on the trails while others are workshops focused on preparations for spring, like how to start your garden.

You may know the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust from its role in the outdoor farmers market at Crystal Springs Farm in the summer and on the town green in the spring and fall. I am eagerly waiting for the first spring market day on May 5.

Following on the gardening theme, BTLT also puts on the impressive Taking Root Plant Sale on May 26, where you can simultaneously provision your garden with lovely native plants and support the land trust’s efforts.

And, if you don’t have your own garden to tend, but love digging in the dirt, one of the many volunteer opportunities possible with BTLT is to help at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. The garden is used for educational programs and also provides produce for local food banks, in addition to having private plots for those interested in having their own patch. You can find out more at www.btlt.org/volunteer.

To read the complete article, click here.