Brunswick farm fights food insecurity with ‘Growing to Give’

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BRUNSWICK — It’s easy to miss Scatter Good Farm while driving along the winding East Coxon Road.

But a food bank at the farm is attracting attention for helping several organizations fight food insecurity in Maine.

Growing to Give, a nonprofit launched by  John Newlin, Patty Carton and Theda Lyden in April 2017, grows organic vegetables using climate-friendly methods, and donates the produce to area food banks and pantries.

Newlin and Carton, who are married, have lived on Scatter Good Farm for 17 years. It wasn’t until recently, however, that they decided to take the farm from what Newlin called a “hobby” to something more.

“It was sort of a hobby (or) ‘pet’ farm for most of that time, while our kids were young and we both had careers,” he said. “As I made a shift in my career towards the climate change issue, I really decided simultaneously that the farm needed to be more productive.”

He then enlisted the help of his friend Theda Lyden, who retired as executive chef of the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport and is an experienced organic farmer.

Newlin said he wanted Lyden to create a “farm-based product” to be sold at Scatter Good. For a while she made homemade organic pizza sauce through “Theda’s Organics” out of a room converted into a commercial kitchen on the property.

One day, however, she had too many peppers to be used in the sauce. She asked a member of Merrymeeting Gleaners, a local volunteer group that gathers produce from local farms for delivery to food banks, to pick them up.

A volunteer told Lyden, Newlin and Carton about Twin Villages Foodbank Farm in Damariscotta, and Lyden said the information – and her realization she no longer wanted to cook for Theda’s Organics – led the trio “down the path” they’re on today with Growing to Give.

After its first year of operation, Growing to Give has a goal of doubling its initial food production this year, which would mean delivering at least 8,000 pounds of “fresh, certified organic” produce to organizations in the 2018 growing season.

For 2019, the group’s goal is to deliver 24,000 pounds of vegetables.

Lyden said the initiative is “based on volunteers,” and the Merrymeeting Gleaners are now a key part of the effort; the group harvests all of the food at Growing to Give and delivers it within an hour.

Because the gleaners are Sagadahoc County-focused, Carton said, most of the food produced at Growing to Give last year went to Bath, Phippsburg and Wiscasset, with some being donated in Brunswick, too.

However, because Brunswick has the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, which Carton said “is pretty well supplied,” Growing to Give tends to focus on facilities that are “a little further afield (and) don’t get as much.”

The Merrymeeting Gleaners are also in charge of researching organizations that need the food, and what types of produce they need.

Knowing what types of food can be utilized is important, Lyden said.

For instance, she was once part of a gleaning group that was growing squash, but there was not a lot of interest in it from organizations.

“Some people don’t even have a knife big enough to cut one of these huge squashes, or they don’t know how to cook with foods that they’re unfamiliar with,” she said. “So we’re really trying to focus on basic food that’s nutritious and people are readily knowledgeable on how to use it.”

Growing to Give is especially focused on growing greens, which Carton said pantries love because leafy foods can be hard to come by.

“Greens are so perishable, but we can grow them and get them to the pantry within an hour and they’re beautiful,” she said.

In addition to the Merrymeeting Gleaners, Growing to Give also has other volunteers, but is seeking more. Anyone interested should email Carton.

This season, the organization is also hoping to expand to Androscoggin County through a group called the Androscoggin Gleaners.

The initiative will soon be expanding physically as well, with two new greenhouses scheduled to be added on the property and made possible through grant funding.

This summer, Brunswick residents can help the facility’s efforts during two separate fundraising events.

The first is the FarmYard Jam, a community music festival that will be held 5-9 p.m. June 23 and feature food trucks, live music, games, animals, and farm tours for a suggested donation of $10; kids get in free.

Then, in August, the farm will be hosting its second annual farm-to-table dinner. All food will be cooked by Lyden and three of her female chef friends. Last year, 98 percent of the food served came from Scatter Good Farm. Tickets will be available online.

In addition to helping those that cannot afford fresh produce, Newlin said another aspect of Growing to Give’s mission is climate-friendly agriculture.

Some of those methods include minimizing tillage and reducing the use of fossil fuels by not running as much electrically powered equipment. The farm also uses Biochar, which is charcoal used as a soil amendment. Biochar, Newlin said, is not only beneficial for plants in the soil, but also sequesters carbon out of the atmosphere.

Ultimately, he added, efforts like Growing to Give are important for many reasons – one being Maine’s issue with food insecurity, as the state has not “rebounded” the way others have following the recession in 2008.

Another reason, Carton said, is because she believes healthy food should be available to everybody, not just those who can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on groceries.

“There’s a lot of people who just can’t afford healthy food – you go to the grocery store and you spend $100 and you go away with one little bag,” she said. “I feel personally that that should be a right. We should be able to feed ourselves and be healthy, and if we can help with that, great.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Volunteers work at Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick for Growing to Give, an initiative that grows organic vegetables and donates them to partner food banks and pantries.

Scatter Good Farm is at 30 East Coxon Road in Brunswick.

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