Tom Settlemireby Pat Friedman
Coastal Journal contributor
BRUNSWICK — Hidden barely out of view off Baribeau Drive in Brunswick lies the Tom Settlemire Community Garden: A magnificent haven, a promise fulfilled, a model community garden that looks like a magazine spread, and also helps prevent hunger through the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP).
On May 1, the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) and an outpouring of volunteers opened the trend-setting 2.5 acre community garden adjacent to Crystal Spring Farm.
“We’re shocked that it happened as quickly as it did,” said BTLT Associate Director Caroline Eliot. According to BTLT Executive Director Angela Twitchell, “Land trust and community members have dreamed about a community garden at Crystal Spring Farm since the farm was purchased in 1994.”
“There’s been nothing haphazard about this project at all,” said plot holder Lisa Paige. “It’s been so thoroughly organized.” Paige raved about the space. “The sun and breeze up here, with the protection from the north wind by outlying woods, it’s perfect. Bluebirds have already nested here.”
Paige was one of two plot holders who added to the eclectic space a bluebird house, resulting in the garden’s first four baby bluebirds. “They (bluebirds) love it here,” exclaims Tom Settlemire, for whom the garden is named. Goldfinch, sparrows and beautiful, winged creatures now revel in a virtual cornucopia where, just months ago, it was just a vacant field.
With 73 individual 10-by-15-foot plots (all of which were spoken for this year) and more acreage/room for growth, the garden has a waiting list already in place for next year. Plots cost $35 for BRLT members, and $25 for non-members. Not bad at all.
“Current plot holders who want to re-up need to commit by October, and can keep the same plot with which they started,” said Eliot.
A Little History
Linton Studdiford describes how the project began:
“The land trust had discussions with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension,” he said, “and Dick Brzozowski had suggested they might be interested in starting a Community Garden about a year ago.”
Studdiford emphasizes the tremendous participation by volunteers who researched the Yarmouth and Portland gardens for helpful information. “The next step was to raise the money needed for the large, up-front capital expenses,” Studdiford explains. “The shed, land prep, fence materials and water acquisition were the major ones. So we procured three or four grants that came together for about $15,000.” Then it was a matter of getting people together to spearhead the projects.
The fencing estimates first came in at $10,000 to $13,000.
“Instead,” said Settlemire, “we purchased the materials for about $3,000, and some of us with farming experience said, ‘Why don’t we just do it ourselves?’”
So they plowed the land – twice – and put the 140 square-foot shed in place. And in one day in April, they shoveled out all the beds, and installed about 1,000 feet of fencing. About 100 volunteers showed up to get the job done.
“That day,” said Studdiford, “no one stood around; everyone took initiative to step in to make it what it is today.”
“When I saw these two groups [BTLT and MCHPP] getting married,” said Doreen Nardone, a MCHPP food pantry volunteer who now serves as the garden’s Volunteer Coordinator, “the concept really excited me.”
Nardone now tirelessly rounds up what she calls “guardian angels” who help the project along.
“The main thing about this group of volunteers,” said Nardone, “is that most of them do not have a plot at the garden. I’ve had folks who know little about gardening still wanting to pitch in, saying, ‘Just point me in the right direction and tell me what to do.’ So the gardener/non-gardener component is really interesting.”
“There has just been so much enthusiasm,” said Eliot. “We have a group that’s passionate about gardening and, for beginners, we coordinated master gardeners for mentoring and workshops.”
Plot holders were surveyed, and the number and needs of beginners was identified. In response, a committee set up a six-series Master Gardener’s Workshop at the garden, which includes demo plots for educational purposes.
“We plan to have even more organized efforts next year to align masters with beginners,” said Eliot.
Linda Long, an avid gardener and a volunteer for the garden, says she came into the picture in January after the ground had been tilled, plots were opened up and the winter workshop series had started.
“What I find most amazing,” said Long, “is [seen] in the progression photos I have been taking since April; by the end of July, it had just exploded ... the soil is spectacular. Everything is so lush and green out here, more so than in my own backyard.”
The soil was tested, limed, and bestowed with mounds of rich, deep compost, enough for every plot holder to use two full barrows on their plot.
One of the nice things about the Tom Settlemire Community Garden is that it’s a cross-generational project. At any given time, one can encounter a peer of any generation working on their plot.
“That’s the neat thing,” Settlemire said, “seeing young moms with kids, and folks of all ages. I remember a little girl planting very specifically some peas with her father; she was excited to explain how they were ‘planting the seeds so they would grow into plants with peas that we can eat!’”
And the Horizons Living Center, which abuts the garden, has three super-raised garden beds for any of their residents who would benefit by them. Older and younger farmers and gardeners here are of all ranges of experience.
About a dozen young teens from Apogee Adventures also participated.
“For some of these individuals, it was the first time they’d seen certain foods growing,” said Eliot. “They were filled with interest and youthful energy, saying, ‘Look, is that broccoli? Is that cabbage?’ Every generation can learn from each other.”
After the cost of the land, acquiring enough water for all users was the biggest hurdle, and came with the highest cost. Eliot said that David Brooks, from Brooks Hydrologic, “donated a significant amount of time and expertise, helping us problem-solve around the water supply for the garden. He ultimately coordinated the excavation of the tile well, and installed the piping for the garden’s water supply. He’s also a plotholder.”
Then the garden purchased reused tanks, and built robust frames to create a gravity feed and to withstand the weight of the water.
“Once all four 330-gallon tanks were set up for water, we had to get volunteers to run a generator that took an hour to fill the tanks each time,” said Eliot.
Then Settlemire had an idea: Why not use a solar-powered pump? They’re perfectly-suited for use in a garden: The sun powers the pump when you need it, and when it’s raining, you don’t need water.
The $2,000 cost for the solar materials was raised in lieu of gifts for Tom Settlemire’s recent 75th birthday. He asked for donations to the solar panels, and with his daughter’s help, they raised the whole amount. “This system is designed to water animals and is common in the Midwest,” Settlemire says.
“It’s a phenomenal garden,” said Fortunate Meuller, co-owner of Portland’s ReVision Energy, which designs and installs residential and commercial solar projects. “We were incredibly impressed by the scope and obvious quality of these gardens. We’re a local business, and we try to help in the community on a regular basis, featuring charities every month. This was a good way for us to support the Land Trust, the Settlemire Garden and Hunger Prevention.”
“The fact that we built about 500 square feet (of plots) for hunger prevention makes it a symbiotic relationship that’s about more than individuals,” said Studdiford. “Now we’re having some discussions with the idea of inviting more veterans who can gain the therapeutic benefits of gardening. We’ll continue to expand.”
Five miles of winding, wooded trails, open to the public, meander around and behind the garden. “They’re just beautiful,” Eliot said.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Settlemire, upon discovering that the garden would be named for him. “I had been president of the board for several years, and on the day of my retirement, I learned that it was named after me. What an honor!”
Settlemire sums it up this way:
“In our society, it’s hard to build community because we are in so many ways becoming isolated. This is a good way to get back in touch.”