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Hunger Action Month

Did you know that September is Hunger Action Month? Unfortunately, there are many people right here in our community who struggle to put food on the table. 

According to Feeding America, one of the largest anti-hunger organizations in the United States, 

  • 1 in 10 people face hunger in Maine
  • In Maine, 33.2% of households receiving SNAP benefits have children. 
  • Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support. 
  • Across the country, the pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color (African American, Latino, and Native American), who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic because of systemic racial injustice. 

It’s no surprise that with access to nutritious foods, people are better equipped to live a more full and healthy life. A core part of BTLT’s mission is to support a vibrant local food system and an important aspect of that work includes efforts to increase food security in our local community.  

At the BTLT Farmers’ Market, we work hard to ensure folks from all socioeconomic backgrounds have the opportunity to access fresh produce and feel invited to participate in our local food system. Our Market participates in several food access programs including SNAP and Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB). Both the Brunswick Farmers Market and Brunswick Winter Market have also started participating in the SNAP and Maine Harvest Bucks programs, creating more opportunities to access food grown in our community. With these additions, all five farmers’ markets in the region are now accessible to SNAP families! This success was due in part to the action by the Merrymeeting Food Council – raising grant funds and offering training that enabled both markets to start accepting SNAP and MHB market-wide.  

Volunteer at the BTLT Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm

Each year in BTLT’s Common Good Garden (CGG), thousands of pounds of fresh produce are grown and donated to local food security efforts, most going to Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP).  We are thankful for our stellar CGG volunteers and for our partnership with MCHPP, with whom we conveniently share an office building. Their new facility on Neptune Drive now has a community kitchen, which MCHPP hopes will reduce food insecurity and improve the efficiency of the local food system. We’re also grateful for our close partnership with Merrymeeting Food Council, which supported the development of this new sliding-scale, fee-based, community kitchen. It’s partnerships like these that allow BTLT to have a greater impact on these important issues in our community. 

Volunteers in the Common Good Garden

Even at CREA Camp, we work to ensure all campers are fueled for a full day of summer fun by engaging volunteers to provide healthy lunches when there’s a need. 

Thank you to our BTLT members and volunteers who enable us to do all this great work towards food security in our community. Whether you’re a BTLT member or not, read below to learn how you can help! 

WHAT YOU CAN DO THIS MONTH AND BEYOND:

  1. Learn more. Try listening to the podcast Elevating Voices, Ending Hunger, checking out Maine’s Ending Hunger by 2030, or reading Merrymeeting Food Council’s Community Food Assessment. 
  2. Check out MCHPP’s Harvest Week events line up (Sept 25th-30th). 
  3. Volunteer at the Common Good Garden. Volunteer Work Days are every Tuesday and Thursday 8:30am-10:30am May through October, unless it’s raining. All are welcome, just stop on by and garden in community with others! Learn more here. 
  4. Volunteer at the BTLT Farmers’ Market – Volunteering at the Market is a great way to support a healthy local food system. Helping at the BTLT info booth especially can make a big difference! Part of this role is processing EBT/SNAP/Maine Harvest Bucks transactions. Being able to answer questions and process transactions with a kind smile can help reduce the stigma around food security and ensure folks feel seen and supported in our community and welcome at the Farmers’ Market. Learn more here. 
  5. Understand what local resources are available and help spread the word so other folks do too! Click here for food access information for towns in our area or here for statewide food access information.

This Year at the Common Good Garden

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!