UMF community gardening, a growing experience

James Cooke, a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, holds a zucchini he harvested from the university’s community garden. The raised beds are next to the Olsen Student Center near South Street. Pam Harnden / Livermore Falls Announcer

FARMINGTON – The long-held dream of having a community garden at the University of Maine at Farmington has come true.

Last spring, educators Gretchen Legler and Misty Beck offered a course that focused on designing, building, planting, tending and harvesting UMF’s first campus garden, while learning remotely.

“The Dig It course was offered online,” Beck said. “Students wrote a successful proposal, completed experiential projects at home on ladders or patios.”

Other faculty members went so far as to plan ahead of students graduating.

“We’re tracking,” Leger said. It helped that the creative writing center was torn down, she said.

Legler, who teaches creative writing, had taken a three-year hiatus to earn his theology degree.

“While I was there I planned a project around a garden,” she said. “One of the reasons I went to theological school was that I saw a real desire in the students to do something real. I wanted to address this.

A friend told Legler about grant opportunities through the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust in Boston. A grant of $6,300 was awarded to the UMF project.

The money paid for loam, hemlock to build the flowerbeds and some seeds. UMF provides compost while Beck and others donated additional plants and seeds.

Gretchen Legler, a UMF professor, holds a basket of produce harvested at the University of Maine in the Farmington Community Garden. Student Sara Taylor and teacher Misty Beck are at right. Pam Harnden / Livermore Falls Announcer

“We got something from everyone,” Legler said. “We try to focus on fall crops, it’s so late in the season. We will donate products to food banks, churches or, once students return to UMF Thrifty Beaver Co-op,” for students in need. “It will be one of our main destinations.

Legler said, “The students who took my summer course researched and planned this garden. We followed their design as much as possible.

Even though netting surrounds the raised beds, deer have stepped over and nibbled on several plants.

“When the campus was abandoned, there was nothing to scare them,” Legler said.

Beck’s students designed the bed layout. James Cooke and Sara Taylor helped build them.

One bed is raised for wheelchair accessibility, Legler said.

“A second raised bed is in the works,” Taylor said. “There will be benches on each side for people to sit and tend to the plants. We try to grow faster growing crops to get more harvests.

Cooke plans to make white stakes with plant names on them.

“It’s also for my good. I’m confused,” he said.

Taylor is the social media lead for the project. The Facebook and Instagram accounts feature videos and other posts about the progress of the garden.

“Some beds are reserved,” Legler said. “Elementary teacher Kathryn Will will be using one for a lesson. Geologist Doug Reusch wants to do an experiment in the garden this fall using salt.

“He wants to line the lanes with salt, see if he captures the carbon dioxide,” Cooke added.

“It was the dream,” Legler said. “To make it a classroom, an authentic and experiential teaching place in the classroom. Sara said to me, “It’s so real.”

Taylor learned basic building skills through the garden project.

“I had never really transplanted before,” she says. “I transplanted them all, they are still alive. I learn about the different insects that attack, learning as we go along with the deer.

“It’s cool to build something with our hands,” Taylor said.

“I gain experience with starting a project, being part of the planning process, not after it’s been established,” Cooke said. “To see something being born is exciting.”

Beck said, “It was wonderful to watch all the good work.”

This fall, a specialized course, Gardening for Change, will be offered, she added.

“Students will be outside in the garden, inspecting other community gardens. Introducing students to college life, getting them to think about growing things,” Beck said. “We are really lucky to have this space.”

Student Sara Taylor, left, and professor Misty Beck show off produce from the community garden at the University of Maine in Farmington. Zucchini, cucumbers and herbs were delivered to the Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington. Pam Harnden / Livermore Falls Announcer

The first harvested vegetables were delivered on August 14 to the Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington by Beck, Legler and Taylor. About 7 pounds of zucchini, 3 pounds of pickled cucumbers, dill and parsley were given to the pantry. Therese Hersey, a volunteer in the food cupboard, gave them a tour of the facility.

While the produce was being harvested, UMF staff member Matt Shultz stopped by to ask if he could have some dill to make pickles. He left with several heads.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Legler said.

UMF staff member Matt Shultz picks dill at the University of Maine Farmington community garden to use in pickles. Pam Harnden / Livermore Falls Announcer

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