2018-01-18 / News

Team of gardeners on mission: education, community

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Residents hope to have a new community garden ready for planting this spring to build upon the work of previous gardens in the area and teach local children the value of growing one’s own food.

Holly Culloton started volunteering at the Piersons Lane Community Garden five years ago with Joyful Harvest Neighborhood Center. She then trained to become a master gardener and continued volunteering at the garden through Partners for a Hunger Free York County. Master gardeners are required to spend 20 hours a year volunteering to remain certified. She’s helped teach children about how to grow their own vegetables, get soil ready for planting in spring, tend to plants in summer and winterize beds in fall.

“I’ve always been a gardener anyways,” she said. “I loved flower gardens. I’ve grown vegetables. I saw how important having a little green space means to kids in the neighborhood. There’s not a lot of opportunity for them to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and get their hands dirty. These kids, once they’re out, they’re exuberant. They love learning about worms and nasty bugs and seeing things grow up out of the ground. It’s a wonderful experience.”

The new garden, which Culloton plans to call the Mission Hill Community Garden, will be located on Sullivan Street on The Mission Hill Complex of Biddeford Housing Authority. Biddeford Housing Authority will lease about a half-acre of land to Mission Hill Community Garden for a dollar amount yet to be decided on. Tracy Chaplin, another volunteer at the Piersons Lane Community Garden, will be Culloton’s co-leader and developer of the organization. They hope to have the garden ready in May.

“He and I got to talking about how lovely the garden space is,” she said. “We’ve been thinking about it for some time. I’m a Heart of Biddeford board member. I’ve travelled around the country to big Main Street conferences and seen some pretty spectacular community gardens and how valuable they are. (They) are important things to bring people together to talk about food and healthy cooking and healthy eating. I see a great opportunity to expand what we have here in Biddeford and Tracy Chaplin and I are making that happen.”

“Piersons Lane is a really small garden,” Chaplin said. “We were approached by Biddeford Housing Authority. They had a space they wanted to convert into garden area. It seemed like a really good pairing to bring their space and our gardening skills together to ... help meet the needs of the immediate neighborhood and to extend it into the full community as a community garden.”

Culloton said local farms Shady Brook on West Street and Tibbetts Family Farm in Lyman have donated seedlings and soil to Piersons Lane Garden respectively. She plans to use recycled pallets to make fences and garden beds. She hopes to connect with students from the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology to build a pergola to be used as an entryway and area where local seniors can sit in the summer. Culloton has friends from New Hampshire who donated 200 concrete blocks for a patio and pergola. Biddeford Pool residents also donated a two-story cedar shingle cottage that Culloton hopes to use as a classroom and area to sell produce for a weekly farmer’s market. She said Biddeford resident and businessman Jim Godbout has agreed to help install water on the property and build a rain catching system on the roof of a nearby building.

“We’re really grassroots, boots on the ground, doing what we can with as little money as possible,” she said. “We’re hoping this garden becomes a hub for further community development gardens in Biddeford, including Piersons Lane garden becoming a satellite garden and Williams Court. There’s an existing community but there’s more room for expansion.”

“A lot of people who live downtown may, whatever their circumstances, love or want to garden but don’t have the space,” Chaplin said. “We will be a centrally located garden where you can walk over and put your feet in the grass, feet in the dirt and plant and actually be able to harvest fresh vegetables beautiful flowers and walk back to your apartment in downtown biddeford.

“Especially in that neighborhood there are a lot of families from different cultures. I was talking with them and many had gardens where they had come from. Now they’ve relocated to, for lack of a better term, an urban area and they don’t have space to grow herbs and things they’re used to using in their cultures’ food. Having a three by six box to plant those herbs and vegetables they’re accustomed to will be is exciting for them and exciting for me to learn about different varieties I may not have considered growing.”

Culloton said the first development team meeting will be Monday, Jan. 22. She’s confident that, with the help of the surrounding community, the Mission Hill garden will be a reality.

“As we move into uncertain times, I think it’s imperative we teach kids how to grow their own food so that they can feel secure feeding themselves and their families,” she said. “There are so many reasons I’m doing this. I love eating healthy, working outdoors in a garden and creating beauty. I love being a part of that.”

For more information or to get involved with the Mission Hill Community Garden, email Culloton at holly.mhcg@gmail.com.

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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