Posts

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: Peter Milligan & Marc Brown

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen and I am a rising junior at Bowdoin College working at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG). This post is part of my plot holder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plot holders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. Recently, I spoke with Peter Milligan and Marc Brown, who have both been plot holders at TSCG for around four years. 

Peter Milligan

Peter Milligan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc Brown

Marc Brown’s garden plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Master Gardener Volunteers Dig In at the Common Good Garden

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

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

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

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

Photos by Judith Long.

Bowdoin Ice Hockey Team Lends a Hand in the Garden

As part of Bowdoin College’s Common Good Project, members of the men’s ice hockey team joined us last week for three hours on a beautiful sunny day in the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, helping us prepare for the start of the growing season. Volunteers are a critical part of keeping the Community Garden going and growing. Group work days like this are incredibly valuable as they help us tackle lots of bigger tasks at once!

The hockey team split up into several groups to take on projects around the Garden including tending to the new peach and apple trees in the orchard, weeding and prepping the Common Good Garden beds, helping BTLT volunteer Ellen prepare the for the upcoming Plant Sale, working with Dave Brooks of Brooks Hydro Logic on some repairs to water system tanks, and a problem solving duo got to work on some repairs to our raised beds! While helping the Garden get off to a great start for the 2022 growing season, the team also got to learn a thing or two about gardening and the hard work, dedication, and thoughtfulness that goes into keeping TSCG a thriving community space.

A big thank you to the Bowdoin ice hockey team for lending their hands to the garden. We are so glad that the team had a blast and we hope to have them back soon as volunteers or visitors in the Garden!

Another Great Season!

By Jamie Pacheco, BTLT Programs Manager

2021 wrapped up the 10th year of growing at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG)! We had 83 garden plots rented this season, with well over 100 gardeners in our community. We started the season off rough, with the rain-gods holding back. This is challenging because gardeners needed to visit the garden frequently to keep the soil moist enabling seedlings to take root and seeds to germinate. The remainder of the season was met with regular rain, making this season overall significantly easier as plot holders didn’t have to visit daily (or more!) to keep their crops irrigated.  

Pests are a perennial (pun intended) problem at TSCG. We are an organic garden, so we do not allow the use of harmful chemicals common to many pesticides as they can also harm humans and do serious ecological damage. Crop rotation, one of the best organic pest management methods, is impractical to implement at TSCG with so many individual plot holders. Crop rotation involves rotating crop families through growing spaces (beds or fields) to disrupt the lifecycle of plant-specific pests.  However, with each potholder having 10’ x 16’ plots (or smaller) to grow all of their crops, soil rotation can’t be effectively implemented. This means that pests can always find the foods of their choice, and proliferate. Some crops are nearly impossible to grow at the garden, such as potatoes. We also saw an unusually strong chipmunk (aka chippie) force at the garden this season. The chippies are especially frustrating as they like to take a bite out of this plant, another of that plant, oh, and then every tomato, melon, or squash in your bed. Chippie eradication methods were put in place in attempt to combat the damage. Unfortunately, the chippies were victorious in their efforts.

BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator Julia St. Clair and TSCG Volunteer Dev Culver

The Common Good Garden (CGG), with stalwart leadership by Dev Culver, volunteer extraordinaire, had an excellent year. The CGG crew is made up of around ~30 volunteers, with a dedicated and delightful group of 10 regulars. These are the folks that make the magic happen! The CGG was expanded significantly in 2020, to around 11,000sq ft. To support this effort, the irrigated water system was expanded to these new beds. We are currently working on a winter hardy water pump to support early and late season growing, as well as winter hoop house growing. Melons, various squashes, broccoli, kale, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, onions, carrots, beans, and peaches made up the bounty of 3,177 lbs donated to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Wabanaki food security efforts.  

The Taking Root Plant Sale this year broke records, with ~$13,000 raised! The leadership team of Claudia Labella Adams, Mary Fox, Prentis Weiss, Ellen Maling, and Kim Bolshaw have made strategic decisions that have allowed the plant sale to be more successful every year. This was the first year we hosted the sale at the Topsham Fairgrounds, and while we learned a few things the hard way, we also saw a much improved sale flow.  The perennial team, has expanded their growing space significantly the last few years resulting in nearly 700 plants grown right at TSCG for the 2021. As we wrapped up the 2021 plant season, we had ~1,000 plants in the holding and propagation beds slated for the 2022 sale.  It’s going to be a good one!

This year we were also able to put in some infrastructure to support playing and connecting in the garden.  The Brunswick Rotary and Coastal Rotary designed, funded, and built a pergola, play structure, and picnic table for TSCG. Now, children have a place to play while their caretakers are gardening, and all visitors, gardeners, and volunteers have a place to sit and rest while escaping the summer sun.

Apogee Adventures Workday at TSCG

By Julia St. Clair, BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator

In early August, BTLT was joined at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden by a group from the Apogee Adventures Maine Coast College Essay program. This group of about a dozen high school seniors and their trip leaders joined us for the second of two workdays this summer.

The students worked together clearing weeds from pathways throughout the garden and tending the peach trees in the garden’s orchard, while I rambled on about local food systems, insects in the gardens, and the different types of weeds. The volunteer group took a snack break, wandering through the labyrinth on one the nearby Crystal Spring Farm trails – a calm and peaceful spot right next to the community garden. 

After removing weeds and mulching around the base of the peach trees, as well as clearing any rotten fruit, the volunteers had the opportunity to taste some ripe peaches, and for most it was their first time tasting peaches fresh from the tree! At the end of the workday, each student shared something that they learned that day, from the proper use of garden tools like the shuffle hoe and the life cycle of monarch butterflies. 

We are excited to have offered a fun and educational experience and grateful for the dedication and energy that this group brought to help tend our beautiful community garden. 

Thank you to this dedicated group, we wish them the best of luck as they complete their college essays and apply to their dream schools this coming fall!

Apogee Adventures Lends a Hand at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden

By George Jutras, BTLT Land Steward

This week, high school students on a program with Brunswick-based Apogee Adventures spent the afternoon volunteering in the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. Extra hands are always appreciated on garden projects! It was especially helpful to have twelve young students and their leaders help us with the groundwork for a new expansion of the water system at the garden.

David Brooks, of Brooks Hydro Logic, has been immensely helpful in volunteering his time to plan and construct much of the existing water system at the community garden, including this project expansion. With Dave’s direction and help, the Apogee students dug trenches and laid new pipes. They also levelled and packed a gravel foundation for a new water tank on the southern side of the garden. In addition, the students helped dig trenches for new connections to the wellhead near the garden entrance and for a hydrant at the northern garden boundary. It’s always a pleasure working with Apogee students and staff, and we appreciate their continuing partnership!

“Apogee offers outdoor adventure travel to teens and young adults. They provide students with well-designed hiking, biking, community service, writing, photography, and language programs to spectacular locations throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Caribbean.

They travel in small, supportive, co-ed groups led by dynamic, responsible, and well-trained leaders. In this nurturing and wholesome environment, students learn about themselves and others through physical challenge and volunteer work. Traveling by their own power, students will achieve new heights. Apogee’s primary goals are for students to have fun, form lasting friendships, and to develop strong values.