Brunswick hunger program rakes in a heavy harvest

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BRUNSWICK — Mother Nature smiled upon the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program’s community garden this year.

Volunteer gardeners pulled more than 2,600 pounds of vegetables out of the ground this fall, and then sent the produce down the road to MCHPP’s food pantry and kitchen.

Standing in the bustling food bank at MCHPP’s Union Street headquarters Tuesday morning, Program Director Ethan Minton listed what had already been eaten, and what was still going out.

“The carrots have mostly been used,” he said. “But we still have boxes and boxes of squash … those will be distributed in the pantry and go out in Thanksgiving baskets.”

The sting of onions floated through the air from the kitchen, as volunteers diced them for beef and black bean chili being served for lunch.

MCHPP’s Common Good Garden is a collaboration with the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. When BTLT established its 82-plot Tom Settlemire community garden in 2012 at Crystal Spring Farm, it offered 5,000 square feet to Midcoast Hunger, according to Claudia LaBella Adams, vice chairwoman of MCHPP’s Board of Directors.

The two programs secured grants from Bowdoin College, the Harvard Pilgram Healthy Food Fund, and Maine Women’s Giving Tree to fund a garden coordinator position to lead volunteers and operations at the site.

In its first three years of growing, the garden produced more than 6,700 pounds of food for the hunger prevention program, according to BTLT’s website.

This year, about 45 volunteers spent more than 400 hours planting, growing and harvesting vegetables for the program, coordinator Corie Washow said.

“This program is so multi-leveled,” Adams said Tuesday. “The most tangible benefit is the food. … (We get) fresh, organic, nutritious produce for the clients.”

But in addition, the garden program reaches “so many levels of the community, community with a capital ‘C’,” she added.

Adams said the presence of MCHPP volunteers at the farm “raises awareness of hunger” in Brunswick.

“A lot of nonprofits operate in vacuums,” but the collaboration with BTLT is “a natural marriage,” she said. “It raises the profile of both of our organizations.”

The harvest this year brought more than just vegetables to Midcoast Hunger. On Friday, Oct. 16, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell toured MCHPP’s food bank, pantry and kitchen.

Mitchell, a Waterville native, has recently started addressing the issue of childhood hunger in Maine. During his visit to the Brunswick pantry, according to Minton, Mitchell met with a client and her two children.

“‘She’s doing everything she can to make the best of very difficult circumstances,'” Minton said Mitchell later told him. “‘With a couple of twists in the road, that could have been me.'”

MCHPP provides food assistance to 1,200 families a year, according to the organization’s website.

At lunch Wednesday, volunteers used up some of the last of the community garden’s carrots, shaving them for a salad.

But “there’s still a lot of squash,” Minton said. “There’s always a lot of squash.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Chef Winnie Chen, left, and volunteers Rika VanWilligen and Judy Reynolds prepare carrots from the Common Good Garden for lunch on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program in Brunswick.

Volunteers harvested more than 2,650 pounds of vegetables this year, including these squash, from the Common Good Garden at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.