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BTLT In the News: “Your Land: Blue bounty at Crystal Springs Farm”

By Sandy Stott

“Your Land: Blue bounty at Crystal Spring Farm”

To read the full article online, click here. 

We all noticed it during spring walks. The leafing-out looked vigorous, promising, and then the flowers came. My inner bear keeps instinctive track of the little white bell blossoms that signal blueberries-in-the-making. Walk here waddle there, in the spring wherever I see clustered white, the site goes into my berry-memory. I’ll be back, I say, amusing myself mildly with Arnold-speak.

That was the scene this spring at the north end of Crystal Spring’s sandplain grassland barren, which the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust burned over in April 2021. Everywhere on those 14 acres, tiny fists of white speckled and, in some places, bent, the resurgent blueberry bushes. In a lifetime of blueberry tracking that’s verged on worship, I’d never seen such flower density.

Retired Bowdoin College Ecologist John Lichter helped me understand the gifts of a controlled burn. Bushes, like most of us, seek balance — what’s above the surface should roughly match the root network below. When a burn removes much of the bush and the competing weeds above ground, what remains draws upon a root system that teems with nutrients; growth aiming for balance can then be explosive.

Dial forward to July’s second half: Berry promise has become berry bonanza. I’m back! So too, given the Trust’s invitation to pick on some of those 14 acres, are many of you.

————

What’s also drawn me out on this late July day is something larger than my own berry-mania. It’s the promise of watching part of a blueberry harvest on 35 of 70 leased acres of sandplain that adjoin the acres preserved by the Land Trust. Those acres are cultivated by Crystal Spring farmers Seth Kroeck and Maura Bannon, and each year, thousands of pounds of blueberries get raked up and sent to Merrill Blueberry Farms, an organic processor in Hancock. There they are cleaned and sorted, and then frozen and shipped back to Crystal Spring and the farm’s freezer.

From there they go out to markets and restaurants throughout southern Maine. These commercial blueberries and products made from them are an important part of what makes Crystal Spring Farm a thriving operation.

Kroeck’s explanation of their berrying brought me to think more fully about the plants offering me (for that’s how it looks as I bend to pick) their berries. As he noted, “These berry plants are likely much older than I am, and they are likely to be here long after I’m gone.” Blueberry plants, Kroeck explained, “grow in circular clones from underground root networks that can be up to 50 feet across. Seen from the air, the barren sometimes looks like a patchwork of different-colored circles.” A sort of large-scale pointillist’s dream, I thought as I imagined this.

“And,” Kroeck added, “in the past, people wondered how these old fields just gave and gave.” Yes, the usual post-harvest mowing or burning added back some nutrients and encouraged regrowth, but the giving surely outweighed the getting. Enter the discovery of mycorrhizal fungi that partner with blueberry plant roots, increasing their reach and breaking down minerals for them. Blueberry plants, in symbiotic return, provide the mycorrhizae with carbohydrates.

So much going on beneath the surface. Another lesson, I reminded myself, in learn from your land.

Crystal Spring Farm’s 10-day blueberry harvest started on July 26. At midday on the 27, I stopped by to watch. Kroeck was driving the tractor with its two harvesting drums attached to the left side; his son Griffin was working a deck on the back of the tractor, where the just picked berries arrived via conveyor belts and dropped into a box that holds roughly 20 pounds of berries. Griffin tended each box as it filled, removing sticks, wads of grass and leaves — and the occasional snake — then stacked the boxes on wooden pallets. Kroeck drove carefully at somewhere under .5 mph. And the harvesting drums, which feature 12 rows of slim tines, raked the berries off efficiently. Following along in their wake, I saw few remaining berries and no evident damage to the plants. “Yes,” said Kroeck appreciatively, “the folks who invented these are pretty remarkable.”

Coda: The Gift: Earlier in July, while looking over the berry-bounty of the recently burned acres, Kroeck and BTLT Stewardship Director Margaret Gerber, thought, they are so many; some of these berries could help nourish those who are hungry. Kroeck volunteered a day’s harvesting, which he estimated could add up to 2000+ pounds. These berries would then need processing and freezing and distributing. In Auburn, they found the Good Shepherd Food Bank, which could oversee the processing and storage and, in Portland, the Preble Street Food pantry, which could distribute the berries. A fitting tribute to Crystal Spring Farm and the land’s stewards, and a berry fine use of a season’s bounty.

To read the full article online, click here. 

 

BTLT In the News: “Your Land: What you can see (and what you can’t) – Earth Day ‘22”

Your Land: What you can see (and what you can’t) – Earth Day ‘22

By Sandy Stott

A cool spring morning, with rising wind. It is the season — post-snow and pre-spring-growth — where what’s been thrown and blown away is easy to spot, and I’ve come to this part of Brunswick Landing with 30+ others to clear the area of this hand- and wind-scattered trash.

At my back, a one-story building, its long windows opening out toward a field, houses the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) and the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA). Often working partners, these two conservation organizations help preserve and manage lands, bring people to those lands, and promote the spirit that adheres to and rises from those lands. Close by the building lie the plots of the New Mainers Garden, where sign of that spirit will poke soon above ground. CREA has organized today’s clean-up, and their executive director, Caroline Eliot, has welcomed our mixed lot, including a number of families (thank you, parents), and, with expansive gestures, she’s turned us loose to clean.

Armed with a picker-upper and an empty bag, I begin to work through the grasses and small pines above a crushed rock berm at the base of a thin pond. Snagged among the grasses: 2 paper coffee cups (company name withheld), plastic lid and straw, two linked post-it notes (task completed, I assume), white chunk of shipping foam, wad of paper towel, bottle cap, ah, the companion plastic bottle, a once-upon-a-pencil, bags 1, 2 and 3, (plastic). And on.

I near the water. I look back upfield, and I can see no remaining trash. Soon, I’ll join the others as they fan out into the woods and along nearby roads to fill their bags further. By morning’s end we’ll have tens of bags full. But first I turn back to the pond. I know this water. The eastern branch of the Mere Brook watershed, it too needs (and is slated for) cleansing work.

Named Pond B, the water before me has been put to work. Not far upstream sibling Pond A pools behind its own dam, and just above that the waters emerge from twin culverts that run beneath Brunswick Landing. Ponds A and B, and downstream relatives, Pond Area C and Picnic Pond receive and process 80% of the stormwater that runs off the Landing. It’s all headed finally south for Mere Brook, and then, Harpswell Cove.

Such water from a heavily-peopled, asphalt-rich site carries within the chemical equivalents of the thrown and blown trash we’re all gathering today. A full catalogue of this water’s trouble would burst the seams of this column. But before I head into the woods in pursuit of more visible trash, I want to describe briefly how the Ponds Stormwater System works, and how, over time, its waters may be redeemed.

When it rains heavily, run-off water rushes throughout the Landing. That hurried water picks up whatever’s available — grit, pollutants, bits of trash; it all courses through the system, swelling, rising. When that water reaches the ponds, it does what we all do in quieter water — it slows down. And, as it slows, it lays down some of its burden, the grit and particulates, the pollutants; that load sinks to the bottom, over time layering it. The now partially-cleansed water flows on seaward. A modicum of success.

But time’s accumulations finally make these pond-bottoms toxic, no-touch sediments that should be cleaned. Such a remediation is at hand for the Ponds system. The Navy, which put the system in place in the mid-90s, has contracted for roughly $5 million to have these sediments removed this summer and fall. A layer of clean sand will then be laid in place. The Ponds will then go back to work slowing and sorting the stormwater, which, given the successful repurposing of the former Navy Base as Brunswick Landing, will be substantial work.

Here, beside this working water, I’m thinking about the dilemma of our presence. We slough off so much, visible and invisible; how we manage our slough, how we minimize our trail of discard is an essential challenge on this Earth Day and every day.

It’s an hour later, and I’ve followed the deliberate course of my trash picking into a little draw. A tiny, transparent stream runs along its bottom toward Pond area C; on its banks, my favorite spring harbinger spirals up, maroon surprise. Before it becomes a green fan of leaf, Skunk Cabbage begins as twisting eruption from the newly soft ground; it is sculpture of the highest quality. Nearby, mid-stream, lies the thin manilla fin of a sandbar shaped by the running water. The sand’s surface is stirred and I bend to it; there, in a two-way script, go the paw prints of fellow travelers — raccoon (I’m sure), fox (I think), and the plush pads of a rogue cat(?). Here, in this little draw, slowed by my work of finding trash, I’m finding also the prints and presence of fellow animals. We are all of this earth. I owe them this effort to clean the seen and unseen litter of my life.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. He may be reached at fsandystott@gmail.com

To read the full article online, click here. 

 

BTLT In the News: “Giving Voice: Harvest for Hunger Program is helping Mainers. Here’s how.”

 

Giving Voice: Harvest for Hunger Program is helping Mainers. Here’s how.

By Eden Martin (Giving Voice) – food bank coordinator at Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community.

Spring is my favorite season – full of hope, new beginnings, and the start of the growing season in Maine! Farmers and gardeners are ramping up for the coming growing season by planning gardens, planting seeds, and working to prepare for the busy months ahead. What if during your planning, you decided to set aside the food in one raised bed for your neighbor? Well, many people are doing just that! Local farmers, community and home gardeners, businesses, and schools are all setting aside produce that they harvest to donate to those in the community who need it.

The Maine Harvest for Hunger Program, run by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, coordinates and tracks donations of produce throughout Maine and you can be a part of it! All you have to do is connect with a local recipient agency, like Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, drop your produce off at the agency, then report your donation on the Maine Harvest for Hunger website – super easy! This reporting helps the state get a more comprehensive idea of how much food is actually being used to feed neighbors in need.

A great example of this is the Common Good Garden run by the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust. Volunteers tend the garden and spend over 400 hours each season planting, watering, and harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables. This produce is donated to Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community, which then distributes it throughout the region to help feed people experiencing food insecurity. In 2021, the Common Good Garden donated over 3,000 pounds of fresh produce to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program!

Since the Maine Harvest for Hunger system started keeping track in 2000, approximately 3,176,120 pounds of fresh produce has been donated in the state of Maine – that is a lot of produce! Thanks to partners in the community such as the Common Good Garden, Crystal Spring Farm, IDEXX, Whatley Farm, Six River Farm, farmers’ markets, and many more, food insecure individuals in Maine are able to have access to fresh, local produce all year long.

To learn more about how you can be part of this movement and use your home garden to support your community, you can visit extension.umaine.edu/harvest-for-hunger or www.mchpp.org.

To read the full article online, click here. 

In the News: “BTLT grateful for members, supporters, success”

2021: The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Year in Review

By Angela Twitchell, Executive Director and Emily Swan, Board President

January 7, 2022

The theme of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s work in 2021 was GRATITUDE.  As we brainstormed to come up with an organizing theme, it just seemed to be the most salient sentiment any of us could pinpoint to sum up 2021.  We’re grateful for our members, for our extraordinary staff and volunteers, for the communities we serve, and for all the new ways we are finding to forge connections among people, and between people and the land we conserve.

We are proud of what we achieved in 2021 despite ever-changing challenges posed by the pandemic.

First, land conservation.  Long-time BTLT friends and collaborators John and Carla Rensenbrink donated a conservation easement on 17.5 acres on land that is part of the Cathance River Trail in Topsham.  This is in addition to a 34-acre easement they had previously donated to Friends of Merrymeeting Bay.  We are deeply grateful for their long-time partnership in conserving the Cathance River corridor and ensuring public access to this priceless resource.  In addition, several other conservation initiatives on the Cathance corridor and on the shores of Maquoit Bay are nearing completion at this writing.

Another key achievement of 2021 was completion of the Androscoggin Woods trail in Topsham.  The public now has access to this extraordinary property that stretches along almost two miles of the Androscoggin River in Topsham.  We hope you will take time to visit the river’s wild shores when this beautiful trail re-opens in the spring.

This isn’t all that our hard-working crew of stewardship staff and volunteers achieved in 2021.  They also 

A core part of BTLT’s mission is to support local agriculture – not only do we manage the Saturday Farmers’ Market and Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG), but we also collectively conserve 1,928 acres of agricultural land across 25 properties.  2021 saw numerous achievements in promotion of our agricultural mission:

  • The return of our Saturday Farmers’ Market to its beloved location at Crystal Spring Farm under the guidance of our outstanding agricultural programs manager Julia St. Clair.
  • Construction of raised beds outside BTLT’s office at Brunswick Landing where New Mainer families were able to grow familiar foods and create community.  We are excited about extending this partnership both at Brunswick Landing and at the TSCG in 2022.
  • Creation of a one-acre plot at Crystal Spring Farm where BTLT is sharing stewardship with Mowita’nej Epijij (“welcome to the gathering place”), where Wabanaki people are growing traditional foods and medicines and re-establishing connections to the land.  Again, we look forward to nourishing this relationship in 2022 and beyond.
  • The return of our beloved Taking Root Plant Sale after a 2020 hiatus.  The sale raised a record-breaking $13,000 for the Common Good Garden, which this year donated 3,177 pounds of fresh organic produce to the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.  Both the plant sale and the Common Good Garden are run almost entirely by dedicated volunteers.

In 2021 the BTLT board of directors embarked on an update of our five-year strategic plan.  This process involves a comprehensive review of our work in conservation, stewardship, and programs, and a deep look inward to discern ways we can better accomplish our mission.  We are grateful for this opportunity to work together to make BTLT a better, more resilient, more diverse and inclusive organization, one poised to address deepening environmental challenges posed by climate change and development pressures, and to serve the needs of our whole community.

We thank all of our members and supporters for making the successes of 2021 possible.  We look forward to 2022 and the possibilities that await us to conserve special places and connect the people of our region to them.  Happy New Year!

To read the full article in The Times Record, click here!

BTLT in the News, Your Land: A Little Brook Talk

Sandy Stott: Your Land: A little brook talk

December 3, 2021

The following column is the 7th in a series about our Mare/Mere Brook Watershed. December 6th’s Brunswick Town Council meeting will include a presentation of a watershed improvement plan from the Mare Brook Steering Committee. The plan recommends ways to attain a watershed-wide Class B stream designation, a significant upgrade from Mare Brook’s current “urban-impaired” status. Interested citizens are encouraged to tune in. Detailed information about the watershed and plan may be found at brunswickme.org/233/Mare-Brook-Watershed-Planning

For those of us who have worked on the Mare/Mere Brook watershed plan, this slim waterway has become a presence. And a few of us — well, one at least — make regular visits to talk to and with it. Water-talk isn’t as unusual as it may sound; brooks do, after all, babble. And so, it turns out, do I.

On this November day, down in a Meadowbrook gully, I ask, “What’s the brook-news?” And I hear in return about the recent rains, the chill settling out of the nights, and the passages of foxes, deer, raccoons, opossums, and even the rumor of returning moose and bear. “They’re here…or near,” the brook says, and I bend at a crossing to read their print-script.

“What about your oxygen level?” I ask. DO, or dissolved oxygen in brook-speak, is vital to life within, and the brook’s monitors measure it regularly. “Okay, it’s okay. Summer can be tough, when I shrink and grow warmer, but this year’s rains kept me going, flowing.” The brook answers further by sending two fingerling trout through the little pool beneath my feet.

“Could do with a little less runoff, however. When it rains hard, the water just pours off the roads and lots and into me, carrying all sorts of stuff. That clouds me, and it washes away colonies of my little critters [macroinvertabrates].”

“Yes,” I say, “I can see how that happens. There’s so much tarmac and roof-slough around you that the rain can’t soak through; instead it runs off to find you. We’re going to try to help some your neighbors figure out plantings and pitches that absorb or slow this runoff.

“So, I have a question for you,” the brook says. “During the open months when it rains, I often get washes of lawn stuff. Sometimes it gives me a case of the algae, which I don’t like. Then there are the poisons that get into everything. The birds tell me that some of you are avid about having one kind of grass only. What’s that all about?”

To read the full article, click here.

 

BTLT in the News, “Land trusts working to preserve 300 years of open space conservation in Brunswick despite push for development”

Land trusts working to preserve 300 years of open space conservation in Brunswick despite push for development

The Times Record

By Hannah LaClaire

May 17, 2019

Conservation has always been an important piece of our community. Check out the recent article in the Times Record about how we have, and continue to, cherish our open spaces.

The Brunswick Town Commons, one of Maine’s earliest preserved tracts of open space, is celebrating its 300th year at a time when the town is under pressure to develop as continued growth in larger towns like Portland and Lewiston pushes some people and businesses into communities like Brunswick.

Whether it’s a walk on the trails, a bike ride after work or a weekend afternoon kayaking, open space is “that backdrop of our lives,” said Steve Walker, town councilor and project manager for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

Open space is just what it sounds like — land that a municipality has consciously decided not to develop. The town defines it as land that provides “scenic beauty and proximity to the natural world,” but “it means different things to different people,” according to Walker. It can also be farmland, space for recreation like trails, access to the waterfronts, large parks or even “pocket parks” like the downtown mall. “Communities that make those intentional decisions, those are the communities people want to live in,” he said.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

BTLT in the News, “Town celebrates 300th anniversary of Town Commons, notes early impact on Brunswick development”

Town celebrates 300th anniversary of Town Commons, notes early impact on Brunswick development

The Times Record

By Hannah LaClaire

May 9, 2019

Celebrations are underway for the 300th Anniversary of the Brunswick Town Commons. In a recent article in the Times Record, local writer Hannah LaClaire details the history of the area and the importance of the Commons to our community.

The Brunswick Town Commons, a “little corner” of town with a big impact on Brunswick’s history, is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, marked by seven full weeks of activities and events.

The Commons, often confused with the Brunswick town mall, according to Fred Koerber, a member of the town commons committee, is a 71-acre chunk of what was once 1,000 acres given to the town in 1719 by the Pejepscot Company “to ly in general comonage.”

One of the earliest conserved open spaces in Maine, the land was also used to help draw both Bowdoin College and the United States Navy to town.

Bowdoin College was given 200 acres to start the college, and the Navy was given land to build the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, where they helped train British World War II pilots, Koerber said. When the Navy left decades later they were unable to give back the original land, he said, but instead gave the town the Kate Furbish Preserve.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

For a schedule of events celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the Brunswick Town Commons, click here.

BTLT in the News, “Town agrees to help fund conservation of Woodward Point”


Town agrees to help fund conservation of Woodward Point
January 28
by Hannah LaClaire

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is energized by the Brunswick Town Council’s decision last Thursday to commit to support the Woodward Point Project! This unanimous decision is incredibly exciting as it puts us even closer to reaching our March 31 deadline.

The Times Record recently covered this decision on the front page,

The town council last week unanimously backed a request for $150,000 to help the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust complete the funding for conservation of Woodward Point on the New Meadows River.


Councilor David Watson said his first question when evaluating an agenda item is, “Is this good for Brunswick?” The conservation was decidedly “good for Brunswick,” he said.


Councilor Steve Walker recused himself from the vote at Thursday night’s meeting due to a conflict of interest with his position as a project manager at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a move which received a “thank you” from chair John Perreault and a quick round of applause from other councilors.


“We’ve seen an incredible outpouring of community support for conserving Woodward Point and opening it to the public,” Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust President Angela Twitchell said in a recent press release. “Funding from the Town would provide a critical lift in our push to the finish line. The project will bring numerous benefits to Town residents and visitors, but only if we can close the funding gap by the end of March.”


In partnership with the Brunswick-Topsham trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust wants to raise $3.5 million by March 31 to purchase the land and provide for its long-term management as a public preserve.

Click here to read the whole article.

BTLT in the News, “Brunswick solar array could be model for others in future”

“Brunswick solar array could be model for others in future”

October 18, 2018

On Wednesday, October 17, the key individuals involved in the Crystal Spring Farm Community Solar Project, representatives from the Town of Brunswick and ReVision Energy, as well as local politicians gathered to celebrate the project that provides about 100,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year to Crystal Spring Farm plus seven other Brunswick families without access to solar electricity where they live.

Everyone enjoys a bright, sunny day, but for the folks at Crystal Spring Farm and their solar array, a little bit of sunshine is that much sweeter.

The 78.6-kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy installation has been online at the Brunswick farm for almost two years, producing, on average, 100,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year, according to Steve Weems, one of the project’s leaders.

Along with other community members, Crystal Spring Farm and the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, which owns the land the farm is on, partnered with ReVision Energy to establish a net metering agreement in which each participant gets a kWh credit on their electric bill each month. Crystal Spring Farm owns 44 percent of the share, and the other eight participants split the remainder.

Weems; farm owner Seth Kroeck; Angela Twitchell, executive director of the BTLT; and some of the participating families and local politicians gathered at the solar array Wednesday evening for a small celebration marking two years of solar power in the community.

The project supports not only clean energy, Weems said, but also local, community-based agriculture.

When the conversation concerning a solar array first began, Kroeck said there was initial worry from the community that the array, which covers a half acre of pasture, would be too “ugly.”

However, he argued that people should shift their perceptions of beauty. Gesturing to the silo behind him, he said that while the silo was perhaps not a particularly attractive building, it is what people think of when they think of a farm. This, too, should be the case with the array, he said, adding that “it’s part of the iconography of a modern farm.”

Click here to read the full article.