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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!

This Year at the Common Good Garden

By Lily Hatrick,
Brunswick High School Student and 2020 Common Good Garden Intern

In an ongoing effort to support food access in greater Brunswick, the Common Good Garden (CGG) was able to donate 3,779 pounds of organic produce, despite Covid, a drought, and crop loss. The CGG, started in 2012 in partnership with Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP), is part of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG), run by the Brunswick-Topsham Landtrust (BTLT). In order to grow this food they depend on the engagement of TSCG community volunteers to plant, grow, care for, and harvest crops. 

BTLT is a land trust that protects land in the Brunswick and Topsham area. They own Crystal Spring Farm and also run one of the largest summer farmer’s market in the state of Maine. Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program is a food access program that has been working in our community for nearly thirty years. They serve around 7,000 meals a week to people in need. 

Over the course of the gardening season, the CGG had many accomplishments:

  • The largest amount of produce to date was donated to MCHPP through the CGG.
  • The volunteer crew was strengthened by a group of high schoolers and an internship position was created that high schoolers will be able to apply for in future years.
  • Overall, the number of volunteers was also much larger this year than it has been in years past. This larger crew was able to tackle expanding the garden. 

This season yielded the largest amount of produce donated to MCHPP to date. It was not an easy road to this accomplishment, as any member of the volunteer crew would tell you. There were both late and early frosts and some seedlings did not make it. The crew approximates that between 400 to 1,000 lbs of produce were lost. This summer was a very dry one, with exceedingly warm temperatures and little rainfall.

“There were times I would water a row and have to stop to go fill up the watering cans and come back and not know where I had already watered because it dried up/soaked in so fast!” says Jen Kennedy, CGG volunteer. Her help on the weekends was especially important because “we couldn’t rely on mother nature” she added.

This year’s volunteer crew leader Dev Culver also noted that “In the early part of the season the lack of rain along with issues with the irrigation system stunted the initial growth of the onion crop.” The volunteers had to deal with both a lack of rainfall but also faulty irrigation, making hand watering the only dependable option. Culver feels that, “Without the extra hands that we had, I don’t believe we would have been able to keep up with the lack of rain.”

Another obstacle that the members of the volunteer crew had to overcome was the pandemic. All volunteers wore masks and gloves for all of the work sessions and all tools were disinfected once they were done being used. The masks may have made the hot days hotter but, the hurdle united the crew even more.

The pandemic had a silver lining: The core group of volunteers expanded. Dev Culver remarked that the pandemic brought more people to the garden instead of keeping people home. “There were more volunteers available and interested in working on the CGG mission because the pandemic cut down on the availability of other activity options.” Kennedy found that she had more “free time” and wanted “a way to get involved in the community and volunteer” during this pandemic. Kennedy was not alone in this feeling as the volunteer crew grew this year.

In addition, the crew was joined by four high schoolers this year. 

As schools closed in the early spring, the CGG was blessed by having several Brunswick High School students dedicate some of their free time to volunteering in the garden. Ultimately, they were able to create an internship with BTLT which hopefully means that a connection between TSCG can continue to grow for years to come.

Lydia Blood, Fiona Edmonds, Kate Shaughnessy, and Lily Hatrick became members of the core crew. Although none of them had prior knowledge, Culver notes that “their collective enthusiasm and willingness to work hard regardless of the assignment made the experience of volunteering so much more fun and rewarding.” Longtime volunteer and CGG cofounder Judith Long said it was a “pleasure” to be joined by the high schoolers. 

This year was different from years past in other positive ways, too. The CGG has four main beds as well as a large back garden that was newly cultivated by CGG this season.

The addition of the back garden doubled the growing space for the CGG, adding about 5,000 square feet. The entirety of it had to be turned, mulched and prepared so that crops could be planted. 

Not only did the poundage increase with this new area, the type of produce expanded as well. Culver says that the back garden “changed the original intended focus on storage crops and resulted in a markedly expanded crop variety.”  In this garden the crew grew tomatoes, melons, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, and some squash. The back garden alone produced 681.7 lbs of the total produce donated. “None of these additional crops would have been possible if the CGG effort had remained anchored in the four front garden beds during 2020.” The CGG was also blessed by the donation of many seedlings, including from BTLT business partner Whatley Farm.

Because of the enthusiasm and grit of this year’s volunteer crew, the CGG was able to take on some new projects in addition to the expanded Common Good Garden. This year a pollinator garden and a hoop house were added to TSCG, and a plastic mulch experiment was conducted in the tomato bed. The pollinator garden serves as a pollinator-attractor bringing in insects such as bees and butterflies, but also moths, birds and bats. The hoop house has long been something that the volunteer crew wanted to tackle, but in prior years hasn’t had the resources.  The hoop house will allow the Common Good Garden to produce early and late season greens for MCHPP, something they historically have not had access to.

MCHPP Foodbank Manager Ryan Ravenscroft says, “the Common Good Garden volunteers do an amazing job growing great produce for MCHPP to distribute within the community. We are very excited for the timely growing capacity the hoop house will provide, allowing the volunteers to grow much needed and appreciated greens and other produce during the shoulder seasons.” Culver and the crew are using kale plants this winter as a trial run and  plan to expand the contents of the hoop house in future years. 

In a stressful and scary year, the CGG and its crew were able to find some calm and fun moments while gardening. With the overarching goal of donating as much fresh and organic produce as possible, they worked with tricky weather and COVID precautions to make this year as successful as possible. Their multigenerational energy fueled a great season; one where the garden was able to grow and expand. The expansion led to more produce donated. The larger number of regular volunteers allowed for both a pollinator garden and a hoop house to be built. Both of these will be incorporated at the TSCG for years to come. The volunteer crew of the CGG had a great time this summer and cannot wait to do it all again next summer!

 

Volunteer Connections

By Connor Rockett

On Monday, Margaret and I headed out with two volunteers to assess a bridge at the Skolfield Preserve. It was great to connect with the volunteers, who were enthusiastic about the work of the Land Trust and environmentalism in general, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about society and its relationship with the natural world. At the start of our visit to the preserve, one of the volunteers said to me “You see,Connor, the more you do this kind of work, the more you see that everything is connected.” I told him he had an ecologist’s perspective and was glad to hear him share this idea, which is at the heart of so much thinking on the environment and on approaches to reshaping our relationship to it. From there, I knew we had similar interests and on the way back from the visit we began discussing them. We touched on quite a few issues, from the environmental and social consequences of industrial farming carried out by state planners, to the relevance of Karl Marx’s ideas about the influence of wealth on democracies and the distribution of power. Pretty heavy stuff!

As we were wrapping up, one of the final comments the volunteer made was, “I’m attracted to Marx’s idea that, of all the things that influence human societies, the economy is a big one.” Without making any particular claims about the final importance of the economy over any other factor in shaping our actions, this to me is an important insight for solving the environmental problems we face today. If our behaviors are destroying the natural world, then we should reflect on the determinants of those behaviors (in the example offered by the volunteer, one of the most important determinants being the economy) and how we might go about changing those determinants in order to produce healthier behaviors across our society. The question to think about is then how do we transition to an economy that is conducive to environmental sustainability, that causes us to have a closer, healthier relationship to the natural world? What would this economy look like? This is certainly nothing new, plenty of environmental thinkers have made arguments about these ideas in the past but I too am convinced of the importance of developing a land-friendly economy (as well as other cultural, social, and political forms) whose structural influences will help us to live in greater harmony with our surroundings and in better health. It was from the conversation with the volunteer that I started thinking more about the importance of a land-friendly economy.

Having these discussions and being in the community of environmentally conscious people at the Land Trust have been wonderful aspects of this job. It’s uplifting to be around people who are thinking seriously about how we can get from where we are to where we want to be, with respect to the environment, right here in Brunswick. I’m glad and thankful to be connected with and learning from those people. Ultimately, the more of us that connect over these ideas and goals, the sooner we’ll be able to make something happen!

Once we got back to the office, the volunteer said, “I’ve lectured too much!” For me, I could’ve spent the rest of the day listening to him and am looking forward to having more conversations like the one we had.

Thank you for another successful Plant Sale!

To all the generous and helpful Tom Settlemire Community Garden volunteers and community members who made donations that contributed to the fantastic success of the Fifth Annual TAKING ROOT PLANT SALE: Thank you! Thank you, one and all.

We were once again so fortunate to have a spectacular community building Taking Root Plant Sale…..initial accounting reveals at least $6,000 raised in support of this “community gem” (as one volunteer stated) the Tom Settlemire Community Garden!

So many generous folks contributed to make this success:

  • Bonnie Studdiford and Claudia Adams, co-chairs of the Taking Root Plant Sale Planning Team
  • All the committee chairs and their crews
  • Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program Staff
  • Master Gardeners
  • Plant donors/diggers/potters
  • Flyer/poster/banner distributors
  • Bake/book donors/volunteers
  • White Elephant/ volunteers
  • We Compost It!
  • Set up/break down crews
  • Label/sign makers
  • The Masons,particularly Frank Hilton.

And of course our loyal customers who came and bought……

We hope this sincere Thank You reaches everyone who helped. We’ve already begun planning next year’s sale and as always hope to improve it based on our experience and folk’s observations and suggestions.

Stay tuned and we hope you will again help with next year’s sale.