BATH — There’s nothing quite like vegetables picked fresh from the garden.

Thanks to students of Bath Regional Career and Technical Center’s carpentry program, residents of Bath Housing’s Anchorage apartments are getting new ways to tend their own garden. Bath Housing offered gardening and fresh produce for years, but the new beds are easily accessible by elderly or disabled residents who may not be able to use traditional raised beds.

Gerry Hook, a resident of the Anchorage, said she loves to garden but wouldn’t be able to without special beds. It’s much easier. I’m 79 years old, and I couldn’t get down to the other ones.

Bath Housing already has 740-square-feet of garden space, with 25 percent of residents (like Hook) signing up to use it.

The new raised beds will expand on that space, and are designed to be much higher in the air than the typical garden plot. Each sits on a platform roughly a yard off the ground, allowing anyone in a wheelchair or using a walker easy access to the beds without having to get down to ground level.

Ray Bernier’s students built all of the beds based on designs given to them by Chris Bennett of Bath Housing. “He had a really good elaborate design,” said Bernier that gave the students a good base to work from, allowing them to construct each raised bed in an assembly-line fashion.

The project came about through an ongoing relationship with Bath Housing. “It started as an idea to do ramp kits,” said Bernier. The idea of ease-of-access morphed into creating raised beds for the gardening program.

Food security is a big focus for Bath Housing, especially considering many residents are elderly and on a fixed income. Gardening is a great way to get healthy, fresh food inexpensively, and Bath Housing has been working hard expand its gardens to meet resident’s needs, said Deb Keller, executive director. Nearly 1,000 pounds of fresh produce was sourced last year from Bath Housing gardens and local community partners like Bath Area Family YMCA, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“The garden project, in addition to other food security efforts, have reached more than half of our residents who may otherwise lack this crucial stop gap,” said Keller. “Based on focus groups held last year, residents are eating more fresh produce and feel healthier as a result of better food.”

Funding for the raised bed project comes from the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant Program and the Maine Charity Fund of the Maine Community Foundation.
Other food programs include bringing in canning experts to teach residents how to safely can, and an upcoming effort to increase Bath Housing’s ability to compost.
For residents like Hook, getting outside to grow her own fresh food has been rewarding in more ways than one. A former landscaper and gardener, she said she’s been able to get plenty of fresh vegetables thanks to the gardens.

“I can and freeze whatever I can get my hands on,” she said.

In the future, Bath Housing hopes to remake the garden area with paved surfaces, further improving access.

Students with the vocational program said they welcome the chance to use their skills to help the community.

“It does feel good to make something knowing it will be used for awhile,” said Nick Simmons, a student from Wiscasset. “It’s nice knowing it’s not going to be abused, and they’re going to have pride in it.”

Bath Regional Career and Technical Center offers career and technical education courses to students enrolled at Morse, Boothbay Region High School, Lincoln Academy, and Wiscasset Middle High School.

Bernier said he hopes the relationship between Bath Housing and BRCTC continues to flourish. “It’s enjoyable to be able to do different things for the community.”
Bath Housing works to enhance housing stability for seniors, those with disabilities, and families in the greater Bath area. Working with its affiliate, the organization addresses the shortage of safe affordable housing available to low-income households. It serves over 325 households in the area through affordable apartments and housing choice vouchers. For more information, call 443-3116 or visit bathhousing.org.