The Benefits of a Community Garden
By: Cayley Bowman- Community Editor
Our school has gone through many changes over the course of the past few years. Some may argue these changes are for the better, while others may not be so keen. However, one change that nobody can dispute is for the better are the community gardens that have been planted on the Gorham campus.
These community gardens can be found on the Gorham campus in two small plots, one in front of Corthell Hall and the other just outside of Brooks Dining Hall. No gardens were planted in Portland due to all of the construction. Douglas Bogdan, the Facilities Maintenance Manager was in charge of setting up the gardens and choosing what would be planted. “Each year the Facilities Management Grounds Department usually installs annual flowers all over both campuses. This past spring we were asked by President Edmonson to consider planting vegetable gardens on campus to help support our community that may be food insecure. I believe she helped develop projects like this at some of her previous assignments,” says Bogdan. He then explains that both campuses have a variety of edible plants that already exist. These include dandelions, blueberries, blackberries, cherry trees, and apple trees (which are between Bailey Hall and Woodward Hall). Instead of planting flowers in some of the existing garden beds like in previous years, the Grounds Team decided to plant some vegetables. “There may not have been the usual color impact that the flowers provide but some of the vegetables are quite colorful and provided a pretty good harvest to those that took the time to pick something,” shares Bogdan.
In deciding what would go in the garden, the Grounds Crew determined what vegetables were easiest to grow for the first time on campus, using their own experience from their separate at-home gardens. So far, the garden yields about: 6 heads of Boston lettuce, 8-10 bounds of string beans, many sungold and grape tomatoes, a number of small eggplants, all 6 celeriac (celery) plants, dill, mint leaves. The latter was able to be used in water and tea all summer, according to Bogdan. Basil, cucumbers, and pepper plants were also planted, but they did not end up surviving. There was a first round of swiss chard and lettuce, but deer ate it and they had to be replanted.
Aaron Witham, the Director of Sustainability, gave more insight into how the Office of Sustainability and the Grounds Crew worked together to make the gardens possible. “The gardens were planted by the Grounds department at USM, led by Doug Bogdan (Manager). Doug has an Associate’s degree in plants and soils from SMCC. He has been Manager of the Grounds Department in Facilities Management for over 11 years. Doug and his crew procured all the plants and seeds, and did the work of siting and installing the garden. All the credit goes to them. The Office of Sustainability produced the Free Veggies signs. The signs were designed by Zack Morin, a graduate student in the Counselor Education program. The student pollinator garden team provided input to the sign design,” says Witham.
Bagdon hopes that the community gardens can be continued into the next school year. “We were worried about the woodchucks causing damage but it turned out that deer were the culprits and ate pretty well. Fencing gardens are not very attractive so we hope we don’t have to do that in the future. Ever since COVID came around and everyone was learning and teaching from home the deer have moved onto the Gorham campus. We see them early in the morning walking right down our roads and have even had them in our parking lots in the middle of the day,” says Bogdan. He is unsure if the gardens can be expanded due to space constraints on campus and the wildlife, but they hope to become more creative in their existing space.
The community gardens did not have a pre-set design, plants were just bought and put into open flower beds. “I hope we can enlarge them and get the word out that the harvest is available for everyone,” says Bogdan. If the space allows, the crew will most likely increase the variety of vegetables and include a lot more lettuce, as it was a big hit this season. “The vegetable gardens really didn’t take any more time than we would have spent watering and pruning the flowers we usually plant, although staffing is always a challenge for us,” says Bogdan.
“This project is one of several that are working toward the goal of engaging students, staff and faculty in nature. Another project is the pollinator garden on the Portland campus between Luther Bonney and Payson Smith,” says Witham. The pollinator garden houses more than 20 native wildflowers that were planted by students, to offer food for native pollinators and to provide a mental health respite for students. There are five guided meditation signs that invite students to interact within the garden. “The project took two years to complete and continues to be improved. Last spring, the Pollinator Garden Student Team also began work with one of Dr. Karen Wilson’s classes to start designing a native/edible plant rain garden on the Gorham campus, outside of Brooks. This project will ramp up this all, as a professional landscape designer will help bring the classes’ design to fruition,” says Witham. He also shares that the installation will likely take place next spring, and that the Grounds department has been very instrumental in helping with both projects.
If you find yourself craving fresh veggies, stop by either of the community gardens on the Gorham campus and divulge yourself. Whether it is for a snack or cooking ingredients, it is likely to have what you are looking for. Next time you spot a Grounds worker, don’t hesitate to thank them for the opportunity to have fresh vegetables at your disposal and their hard work.