Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Julia St.Clair

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is the last of my plotholder profiles series, a project where I have been engaged with the many plotholders of the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. I have chosen to highlight Julia St.Clair as the final subject of this project because not only is she a plotholder, but she plays an instrumental role in supporting the success of the Garden as whole.

Julia St.Clair

Julia St.Clair is the Agricultural Programs Coordinator at the Land Trust, overseeing the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm and the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. As my supervisor, I worked closely with Julia throughout the summer and from my first day I understood her devotion to the Garden, embracing volunteers with open arms, and pointing out various insects. My final conversation for the plotholder profiles project, I was excited to be able to sit down and ask her some questions.

Her love for gardening began as a child in her mom’s robust flower garden planting bulbs and admiring the flowers and butterflies. Carrying on this love for the environment, Julia focused on  Environmental Studies and Photography in college. Before joining the Land Trust last year, she had already worked extensively in the agriculture industry, in large scale commercial organic farming and permaculture growing. 

“Being in a community garden or working in the Common Good Garden is such a different scale and way of thinking about space than what I have knowledge and background in. So it’s kind of a give and take of learning and also somehow being tasked with being in charge of things” said Julia

“I’m young, I haven’t been doing this for very long. Sometimes I really don’t know what I’m doing. So there’s a balance between feeling like I’m not equipped to be growing things properly. And also feeling like this is actually a really amazing space and opportunity for me to be able to learn how to do things and to learn more than one right way of doing things.”

Though Julia has been working at the Land Trust since last year, this is her first year having a plot: 

“I didn’t really have enough time or energy to tend to things last year. I was excited to be serious and grow in a plot this year.”

While the Tom Settlemire Community Garden can often have a waitlist, Portland’s community gardens have waitlists that are hundreds of people long, so Julia expressed her gratitude for the availability at a community garden in South Portland, near where she lives. She explained to me that growing at her plot in South Portland is very different from TSCG. This is largely because TSCG has been used for cultivation for many years and is surrounded by fields and agricultural land inviting many pests. The lack of pests is one of the reasons she almost exclusively grows beans in her plot in South Portland, in addition to the plant’s beautiful flowers. 

While the conditions of TSCG do inevitably invite pests, the protection from the fencing as well as resources like compost and tools for all to use are significant benefits of the space. For many, one of the biggest draws to the Garden is not the physical space itself, but the community within the Garden.

Julia shared, “There’s something about community gardens that are really cool because everybody has their own style of gardening. From the things that they grow, to the approach that they have, there’s something so cool about getting to learn from everyone. I really love the community around the Garden itself. We’re growing food, we’re feeding ourselves, we’re feeding each other, we’re feeding our community and that feels really important.”

As someone so closely involved with the Garden, Julia is constantly thinking about how to strengthen all aspects of the Garden, from efficiency of food production in the Common Good Garden, to strengthening community ties.

“We have this amazing resource of knowledge from all of these gardeners who have been growing for so many years, many of whom are Master Gardeners. I would love to see more of a transfer of that knowledge to the next generation of folks who want to garden. That feels important to me personally, but I think it’s also important to cultivate across generations.”

One way that Julia hopes to strengthen ties between generations is through encouraging younger people to get involved, whether they have gardening experience or not.

“I really want to encourage more youth of all ages to be interested in gardening, not only volunteer work, but educational programs to allow individuals to have ownership over and feel a connection to their space.”

Julia herself is excited to bring new gardeners into the community, and her advice, like many others, is to persevere in the face of initial difficulties:

“I’m always open to give advice for new gardeners. I think gardening can be a very frustrating process. But it can also be rewarding. You can try something one year that might not work the next year and it’s always sort of this fun experiment. I think if you treat it like that, it’s a lot more relaxing and enjoyable.”

If you’re ever looking for more gardening advice like Julia’s, come volunteer at the Common Good Garden workdays on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30-10:30am. Not only will you tend to crops and support the efforts of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, you will have the chance to learn from many experienced gardeners with endless knowledge to share. 

I am so grateful for all of the guidance Julia and the garden volunteers shared with me this summer. I hope other members of the community take advantage of this rewarding opportunity to give back to Brunswick.


Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Prentiss Tubby, Barbra Murphy, Fran Marquis and Robin Manson

By Jane Olsen

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plotholder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plotholders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. Prentiss Tubby, Barbra Murphy, Fran Marquis and Robin Manson are all longtime plotholders at the Garden and active members of the community.

Prentiss Tubby

Prentiss Tubby tends to a plot neighboring mine and while we’ve shared a hello in passing, I was delighted to have the chance to get to know her more. Prentiss has lived in Maine for 30 years, has had a plot at TSCG since 2013, and has “always been a gardener.”  

When Prentiss first heard of the Garden’s founding in 2012, she was hesitant to secure a plot: “I thought that I didn’t need it because I have all this space at home. But I ultimately decided to because I think it’s a phenomenal community.” 

She was born in Vermont and moved to the Washington area when she was pretty young, recalling the influence of her mother’s values on her way of life. 

“My mother was an organic gardener before the phrase was being used.”

Not only did her mother introduce Prentiss to organic gardening and the concept of composting, she also encouraged her to give back to the community. This sparked her passion for helping others, which she now fulfills through Master Gardening. The Master Gardener Volunteers program through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension provides participants with around 40 hours of in-depth training in the art and science of horticulture and in return, trained Master Gardeners volunteer their time and expertise for community programs.

Prentiss chose to complete her certification in perennials because at the time she knew less about the topic than vegetable gardening, expressing to me that she believes “once we stop learning, we start to wither and I’m not ready to wither.”

The Master Gardener program certainly provides opportunities for gardeners to continue to gain and spread knowledge, as volunteers who wish to remain certified and active in the program must re-enroll annually and continue to volunteer at least 20 hours per year. 

While Prentiss contributes hundreds of hours to the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale, she has also devoted time to mentoring gardeners at TSCG. She has mentored a number of New Mainers from the Republic of the Congo, one of whom brought five types of seeds to grow five different vegetables from home to be cultivated in Maine. 

Simultaneous to her social involvement with the Garden, Prentis also deeply values the space as a place of solace:

“I don’t mind if others are here but I love it when I come and nobody is here. It’s like a sanctuary. So quiet. I went through a really rough time last year and this became my place to get away. I have a wonderful garden at home but this was different. And I got away from everything that was weighing on me and I could come here.” 

Outside of gardening, Prentiss is an artist focused on landscape oil painting, a member of a flash fiction group in Brunswick, and is currently writing a memoir. She recently discovered a love for writing, and expressed her gratitude for discovering new passions:

“I’ve always written letters to the editor and that sort of thing. But I never realized that I really enjoy writing too, and at 79 I found that I love it, it makes you stretch your imagination.”

It’s never too late to make a new discovery. This summer I personally discovered a love for gardening. One of the things I appreciated most about talking with Prentiss was her value of the Garden at all stages of growth. She acknowledged the positive brought on by winter, recognizing the season as a time for rejuvenation and preparation for spring, as well as her affinity for the peak August season:

 “The thing I most look forward to each summer is my first tomato sandwich. It has to be very fresh,  right off the vine tomato that I sliced, two pieces of white bread, salt and pepper. And that’s it.” A perfect taste of a summer garden.

Barbra Murphy

Similar to Prentiss, Barbra Murphy has been a plot holder since the start of the Garden, “that first weekend that we laid everything out and put up the fences years ago,” and this year happens to be one of the lucky years she has secured two plots. Throughout her years at the Garden she has been a committed volunteer to the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale and brought joy and experimentation to her plot.

This year, she is growing what she calls a ‘salsa garden’, with eight different kinds of peppers, six different kinds of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and more. She told me she usually makes around ten cases of salsa to give away. 

In the past she has taken on more complex endeavors, including growing gourds for her brother-in-law, who then uses the crop as a medium to make decorative masks. While Barbra expressed she enjoyed growing gourds for this project, she decided to experiment with growing another crop this year, as her brother-in-law still has many gourds from last year yet to be carved. This year she has replaced the gourd project by growing cucamelons, or Mexican sour gherkins that resemble tiny watermelons. 

“These are the type of plants that grow to form every year so if you save the seeds, you can plant them. I think I only saved four cucumbers, harvested the seeds and dried them over the winter. I planted them all in the spring and every single one of them germinated. So what I’m gonna do is tell people that anytime you can just go and pick some because there’s going to be way too many.”

In addition to growing cucamelons, Barbra also enjoys growing edible flowers, to put in salads or mix into salves. She has acquired a lot of knowledge from volunteering at the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale and early in the season, she is sometimes so busy with propagation and transplanting that she is delayed in starting her plot. 

“I feel really lucky that this Garden is here. It is nice to connect with the community of people. I do even though I like being here alone. I really like getting to know the people who are here and who volunteer. I think the Land Trust has a pretty good job with the orientation to the garden, and providing gardening supplies like tools and compost. It makes it pretty easy for people to grow here”.

Barbra grew up on the east coast and has lived in Maine for most of her life, but it wasn’t until she moved to California and worked for gardeners that she really learned how to garden. Though she expressed that her love for the activity began from a young age:

“I’ve always been interested in gardening ever since I was a little kid and I have no idea why, because nobody else in my family was. When I was like in elementary school I would get these things at the hardware store that were called punch and grow, it was sort of like a mini greenhouse, and I grew marigolds and tomatoes and petunias too. I don’t know why I just always really liked gardening even though my family wasn’t into it.”

Nowadays, she is lucky to have both a plot at TSCG and one in her neighborhood as well. So even though Barbra has space to garden close to home, she is still drawn to TSCG for the community. 

Fran Marquis and Robin Manson

Another pair of plotholders that have been at the Garden since the start, I first met Fran and Robin, while tending to my tomatoes, as they have the plot beside me. Fran graciously assisted me in supporting one of my tilted plants. It was a Sunday morning and the couple had been visiting their plot with a friend, Beatrice. While they always thought gardening was interesting, Fran and Robin lived in apartments for much of their life, restricting their ability to have a garden. They secured a plot at TSCG at its founding and have appreciated the gradual transformations throughout the years. Now retired, they have had more time to tend to the Garden and observe the more subtle changes.

“The improvements that happen bit by bit, don’t happen overnight. It’s been good for us to be retired and be able to really concentrate on all this and put more time into our gardens. I feel like we’re farmers now because that’s what we do all day,” said Fran.

 In their garden at home, one of their dogs would even join the fun of harvesting and pull pea pods right off the vines and eat them. One of Fran and Robin’s favorite parts of gardening is harvesting potatoes. With potato beetles to fight off, this is not easy without an abundance of time. But Fran and Robin have persevered because of the joy that harvesting brings them. 

“I like harvesting, pulling out the carrots, and beets, getting my hands in the soil, it’s just a miracle. You plant those little tiny seeds and cover them up with water and pretty soon you have lovely things to eat,” Fran expressed. This joy seems to be infectious, with Robin adding she enjoys growing potatoes “just to watch Fran have fun.”

“It’s impossible for me to pick one thing that’s my favorite. Planning is fun, planting is fun, harvesting is fun, nurturing is fun, talking to the people is fun. Looking at other people’s gardens is fun, exchanging produce with other people is fun, and learning from them. Meeting people that are your plot neighbors that you didn’t even know were your neighbors, just being part of this community thing that is just here. I just think we’re so lucky, I just want to make sure that it continues” Fran continued.

In addition to tending to their own plot, Fran and Robin enjoy the volunteering commitment that comes with a plot at the Garden. Though they have supported Land Trust’s Taking Root Plant Sale in past years, they primarily fulfill their hours as members of the mowing team, which includes around five people, with a rotation of around three mows per person throughout the season. Perhaps the pair first became interested in mowing because of Robin’s childhood memories of assisting her dad as a child, or maybe the pair was simply drawn to the satisfaction of the activity:

“We love to mow, It’s rewarding because after you mow we look around and it makes this place look really nice. You want it to look nice when visitors come here to see it,” said Fran.

Sharing the joy of the Garden with others is another reason the couple loves visiting TSCG. Fran expressed her enthusiasm in bringing friends and family to her plot: 

“Giving somebody the opportunity to come and actually get their hands in the dirt when they really haven’t done it much before and then to see the excitement. It just makes you so happy to see somebody discover that [love for gardening] because it’s a miracle.” 

A friend they have shared this joy for gardening with has been Beatrice, who after having contributed a significant effort to their plot this year, is considering getting a plot of her own next summer!

One of my favorite things about the Garden has been witnessing how various plot holders like Fran and Robin pass on their joy for the space to those around them, and those outside the walls of the Garden.

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Nancy and Dennis Lemieux, Emily Settlemire, and Alisha Chaney

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked 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. This post features more recent members of this Garden community: Nancy and Dennis Lemieux, Alisha Chaney and Emily Settlemire.

Nancy and Dennis Lemieux

Nancy and Dennis

It was a lovely July afternoon when I met Nancy and Dennis in the Garden, tending to their community garden plot only a few strides away from my own. The Lemieux’s moved to Maine 35 years ago from Pennsylvania, where they first met. While this is only their second season in the TSCG, they have already gathered an abundance of knowledge.

The pair expressed that last year they were overzealous, as many new plotholders are, packing a variety of plants into their plot with high hopes. But at the end of the growing season, they discussed what they wanted to change, deciding to simplify their garden and be extra diligent to add compost and nutrients to the soil. They also constructed a wooden border around their plot to keep weeds out, protecting their peppers, tomatoes, and other crops. Their ability to redesign their plot reflects the freedom plotholders have to tailor their space to personal taste.

Every plotholder has a different approach to layout in the Garden, and Nancy and Dennis recognized that variations in the composition of a plot, from configuration to choices in seeds and fertilizer can greatly vary the financial costs of maintaining one’s garden. 

“You get so much fun out of [gardening], it makes you feel good to see things come to life that you grew. You have a say in your food to be organic and natural. It’s your space, it takes you away from everything else you’re focusing on. It really relaxes you, listening to the birds, and feeling the breeze. You don’t have to talk to anybody, but everybody here is really great. People share ideas and what they grow with others. It’s not too overwhelming,” shared Nancy 

Dennis agreed with this sentiment, emphasizing that the knowledge of other gardeners is one of the most beneficial aspects of the Garden:

“My advice for new gardeners would be to start simple, stay within things that you like and don’t give up. There are real, accomplished gardeners here, so take advantage and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s a lot more to it than just growing, we meet new people here and for us that’s been great.”

Emily Settlemire

Similarly to the Lemieux’s, this is Emily Settlemire’s second year with a plot at the Garden. As Nancy and Dennis expressed, the intergenerational knowledge within the Garden can be extraordinarily beneficial to new plot holders. Emily has a unique perspective on the Garden as the granddaughter of Tom Settlemire, former BTLT president, current BTLT board member, and a dedicated supporter of the local agricultural community.

Emily’s parents both grew up on farms, surrounded by livestock and agriculture. While neither of her parents pursued careers in the agricultural field themselves, Emily’s family still had a garden throughout her childhood in Warren, Maine. This exposure to gardening, as well as science experiments in school sparked Emily’s interest in the activity early on. 

This season, Emily is growing chard, sugar snap peas, and garlic. While low germination rates have been an occasional challenge for her, Emily expressed that her appreciation for the crops that do succeed is all the more satisfying. 

Many plotholders I’ve talked to prefer to come to the Garden disconnected from technology and enjoy the natural sights and sounds of the space while gardening. While Emily appreciates this time connected to nature, she also enjoys listening to podcasts while tending to her plot as a “pick me up if [she] needs to push through a [gardening] project.” One podcast Emily is currently into is called Let’s Grow Girls, hosted by a couple from the U.K. interested in flower farming.

Though some plotholders have abundant time to tend to their plants, Emily expressed it can be challenging to find time to make it to the Garden as often as she would like. While attending the cardiovascular program at Southern Maine Community College, Emily was able to water everyday on her way home from school but now that she works long shifts at the Maine Medical Center, she expressed it has been difficult to make it to the Garden after work. Nevertheless, when Emily has been able to make it to the Garden after a hectic work day, the ease of being surrounded by plants is a welcome release. Emily has also learned how to configure her plot to her advantage as she navigates her varying amount of time to commit to the Garden:

 “It’s a privilege to be out there. I think it comes down to finding the right things to plant out there, and that is where you’re gonna get success.” 

While many gardeners treasure the planting and harvesting stages of the season, Emily revealed that weeding is one of her favorite things to do: “It’s very therapeutic, so simple and satisfying. You go through and bruise up your plot, but the next day, everything arrives from that work. It’s a chore that I once dreaded but now it’s something I want to get into and clean out.” Emily expressed her excitement in observing the root structures that are revealed in this process, providing her with a deeper understanding as to what is going on in her garden underground. Perhaps this interest is what sparked her commitment to the compost volunteer team at the Garden.

After community members and gardeners drop off their compost in the pile, the members of the team rotate their responsibilities on a weekly basis, ensuring that the decomposition process is running smoothly. This year, the compost team has a sizable group of volunteers, so the responsibilities have not been too overwhelming on any one individual. The compost team greatly contributes to the success of TSCG, providing an outlet for plot holders to fulfill their required annual volunteer hours but also bringing community members together.

Alisha Chaney

This year at TSCG, Alisha is growing delicata squash, zucchini, bell and shishito peppers, leeks, potatoes in a bucket, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, radishes, strawberries, garlic, and more. Before I officially met Alisha Chaney, I knew who she was from her exclamations about the monarchs in her plot and the embroidered gift she donated to the BTLT office for Pride Month. Like the Lemieux’s and Emily, Alisha Chaney has been a part of the Garden for two years now. She shares plot 66 with her best friend, but also takes care of plot 10. Though originally from New Hampshire, she moved to Maine eight years ago.

Growing up, her grandmother always had a small garden made up of cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans, where she fondly recalled summer meals with the fresh produce: 

“One of my favorite core memories as a child is going out and harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes, immediately slicing them, salting them and just sitting with my grandmother and eating them for lunch.”

Though she grew up around gardens, Alisha confessed that her green thumb did not come to her naturally:

“Growing plants is challenging for me but I’m good with plants that grow food because I’m more invested in them. I enjoy it but at times it’s also mildly overwhelming. I find it relaxing and so satisfying to say to neighbors and friends, ‘I grew this, let me feed you’”

Not only does Alisha love sharing a taste of her garden with friends outside of the space, she enjoys getting to know her neighbors in the Garden as well:

“Every time I go, I run into somebody new. And I always go and say hi because usually I am exclaiming like a cartoon character, ‘the squirrel didn’t come to eat my strawberries’ or whatever happened that day.”

As someone with two plots, Alisha was able to see the difference in the effectiveness of her various gardening techniques. In one plot, where she spent less time preparing for the year, she has been battling weeds that pop up all season, but in her second plot where she put in the time it has been smooth sailing. This experience informs her advice for new gardeners, emphasizing that choosing your battles is important: 

“Give up on a plan. Don’t try. But one thing I learned from last year is if you do a really good job at the end of the season, putting your garden to bed, like making sure to be here and get stuff turned over, it sets you up really well for the following season. And taking the time to adequately weed your plot before planting will also help you, and save you from the weeds completely.”

As someone who works full time in Portland, it can be hard to make it to the Garden for the Common Good Garden work days which are hosted on weekday mornings. However, there are many other ways for plotholders to fulfill the six hour per season volunteer commitment. Alisha is able to do so through smaller projects tidying the Garden, such as weeding pathways on her own time, making plot number markers, and redesigning the Garden map.

While everyone has different approaches to gardening, and varying time to commit to their plot, TSCG has something to offer for all community members. Whether you’re looking for a picnic table with a calming view to eat your lunch, or a plot to spend countless hours tending to, the Garden is welcome to everyone in the community to enjoy.

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: 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.

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Jennifer & Bill Mason, Rachel Debasitis

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. As a new member of this gardening community, 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 Rachel Debastis, a first time plot holder this year, who happens to be cultivating a plot previously owned by Bill and Jennifer Mason. The Masons have been plot holders since the start of TCSG, in 2012, and recently shifted their gardening space to a pair of raised beds across the Garden.

Jennifer and Bill Mason

Jennifer & Bill Mason

“It’s a great story. The year we moved back, we’re at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning, and I got this tap on my shoulder. And this guy looked at me and he said, ‘Bill Mason, I’ve got something you’ve got to get involved with: the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’ – and of course it was Tom Settlemire,” said Bill.

Sitting across from me at the picnic table in the Garden, Bill and Jennifer Mason told me the story of their involvement at the Land Trust, sharing memories from the start of the Garden over ten years ago. 

“Early with the Land Trust, Linton Studdiford tapped me and some other people and said, ‘I think we really ought to start a community garden of some kind.’ We had our own garden, and our own house and then from there we moved several times so we didn’t have the biggest garden, we were so ready.”

Prior to moving back to Maine upon retirement, Jen and Bill had lived in various places around the state, but have since appreciated the time they now have to spend outside. 

“It’s so rewarding. We both had administrative jobs and had very little in the way of manual labor. And when you dig in, you get involved. That’s what’s so wonderful about this community because you share. You know, it’s volumes of knowledge that you just live with,” Bill shared. 

As someone new to the Garden, I am particularly interested in the history of this community and how it has come together over the years. While the Garden now includes over 80 plots, maintains a compost station, and a detailed irrigation system, when it started it was very simple. 

Bill explained, “In the beginning, people weren’t sure what they were doing. It was all from scratch. We’ve learned a lot from each other. The best symbol for this Garden’s start is that little pink hand pump over there next to the shed. That was the only source of water we had when we started and we only had a little compost bin. Little by little they’ve added all those other things going on, everybody started their own ideas and people built things. And it’s what it is today, which we are thrilled with,.”

While the Masons had varying experiences with gardening growing up, both agreed it was an important part of their upbringing. Jen explained to me that gardening was all she’s ever known, and that growing up her father had an “enormous” garden that fed her five person family. While Bill didn’t have a plot of his own growing up, every summer as a child he went to a neighbor’s house and helped tend to their garden. Because gardening has such a large presence in their lives, I was curious as to what their favorite part about gardening is. Both of them returned to the soil itself…

“We love to be of the earth. It’s great fun. I love the preparation and getting the compost mixed in and then drawing your lines for the seeds and working in the garden itself,” said Bill.

Jennifer bounced off of this sentiment, appreciating the visual changes that cultivating the earth creates; “The most amazing part is that we come almost every other day at least and the change in the garden is amazing. We have a 93 year old friend, who eats much of the food in our garden who wants to paint and highlight the change and we’re so excited to bring her here soon.” 

After eight years of gardening at the same plot, Ben and Jennifer moved to a pair of raised beds across the Garden last year. But the legacy of their original plot holds strong in the hands of a first time plot holder: Rachel Debasitis.


Rachel Debasitis

Rachel Debasitis

I first met Rachel at the Garden to chat during the height of a quick summer rainstorm.

She greeted me in the tool shed with some snap peas for us to share, her willingness to brave the rain reflecting an eagerness to connect to our community. 

This is the first year that both Rachel and myself have a plot at the Garden, and while I am a rookie, Rachel’s experience originates from childhood memories of watching her mother garden. After she graduated college, she took her pursuit of the hobby into her own hands.

“I don’t know why I felt the need, I just wanted to and of course I [planted] really badly in terms of spacing and my understanding of the difference between perennials and annuals, but then I gradually got really into it.”

After some time experimenting, many plotholders in the Garden now know Rachel for the red plastic contraptions in her plot, what she calls her “tomato halos,” from the Garden Supply in Vermont. Not only do the tomatoes respond well to the vibrant color of these red structures, they uphold small reservoirs of water around the plants to allow for consistent watering. For Rachel, this product is just one of the ways she is “playing” and trying out different techniques to best support her plants. 

Innovative cultivation approaches like Rachel’s spark conversations around the Garden; it often feels as though the whole community is invested in not only the various strategies of the collective but also the successes and failures of their neighbors. Although Rachel expressed that she often comes to the Garden to recharge with peace and quiet, she also emphasized that the community aspect brings her joy…

“I like talking to other people interested in the same thing. I like just asking people about why they’re doing what they’re doing and you know, seeing the difference? Because there isn’t one right way to garden. There’s some wrong ways. But there are also things that I haven’t thought about, which is kind of neat. You can also see what does well here and what doesn’t.”

Ultimately, Rachel expressed that when it comes down to it, what draws her to the Garden is very simple:

“I think it’s a feel good thing, it’s just so satisfying. I’m being productive and having fun. And I’m getting exercise, all of which is good for you. Sometimes I will just at the end of my work time just kind of zigzag around the Garden and see what’s going on. I’ve been sort of learning by watching and I plan to keep coming back for as long as I live here.”

From Rachel, a first time plot holder curious about the future of the Garden, to Bill and Jennifer, who know the history of this space like the back of their hand, the Tom Settlemire Community Garden is filled with collective knowledge and inclusive energy. 


Bill and Jennifer’s Advice for a New Gardner: “Start simple. People have grandiose ideas when they first get the garden, I think managing a couple of plantings makes all the difference. And you can grow into more.”

Rachel’s Advice for a New Gardener: “Watch what other people are doing and talk to them. If you’re gardening on your own, don’t put things too close together. Yeah, it looks sparse to start, but it does not stay sparse. My garden is really quite densely planted, but I have the time to keep an eye on it. And keep it very clear of weeds and things like that.”

Bill and Jennifer’s Recipes: “We’ve been eating red lettuce for a week or two and it’s such a good salad. We do Big Beef for sandwiches, salads, casseroles and spaghetti sauces. Peppers, tomatoes and onions go into spaghetti sauce for the whole year. If we have 10 tomatoes and we know we can eat two or three, then we have neighbors. And if the neighbors don’t need any more, then we’ll donate.” 

“One of our favorite recipes is with zucchini and summer squash. These raised gardens aren’t quite big enough for squash so we go to the Farmers’ Market to give them some business. But yeah, so it’s zucchini and summer squash, potatoes, onions, cheddar cheese and bread crumbs on top, And there’s a ton of juice in zucchinis. And cook it for an hour at 350 and it’s delicious.”

Rachel’s Recipes: Rachel had many recipes to share, from the “burst of summer,” packed within a dehydrated tomato to the “life changing” way that soy sauce and sesame oil can amplify a tomato’s freshness. Perhaps her most exciting recipe involves hot peppers:

“Two years ago I had so many, I crumbled them up in the food processor and actually gave a full pint jar to my father and brother as a Christmas present. My father still raves about it. Oh my god, it’s so much better than the stuff on the shelf. And he likes it because he doesn’t cook at all. So it works out very nicely. I’m hopeful for a good pepper season but we’ll see what happens.”


Stay tuned for lots more Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight interviews in the coming weeks!