FALMOUTH — Thanks to a project dreamed up by a 14-year-old, the shelves of the Falmouth Food Pantry should be chock full of fresh vegetables this summer.
Meghan Charest, who just finished eighth grade at Falmouth Middle School and has been gardening since she was “really little,” decided to take on this project after learning of a similar project, Katie’s Krops, in South Carolina.
“(Katie) was giving out grants for, I think, $450 to start a community garden, so we applied for that and our project didn’t get chosen,” Charest said.
Even though she didn’t get a Katie’s Krops grant, Charest didn’t give up hope and continued applying for grants while operating a small community garden.
“We found one through Healthy Maine, Healthy Casco Bay, and that one met our needs even better (than the Katie’s Krops grant),” she said. “We did end up getting that one.”
Last year her garden project was on a much smaller scale in several different locations, but this year the $1,000 grant from Healthy Casco Bay and donation of land by the American Legion allowed Charest to create a permanent plot for her 2,500-square-foot garden.
“We applied for the full $1,000 this year because we wanted to expand and start from the ground to have a more permanent location,” she said. “Last year we had pre-established plots, but this year we had a plot of grass that we literally had to plow out.”
Jackie Rogers of Healthy Casco Bay said that Charest was awarded the grant because her vision fit the mission of the Healthy Maine Partnerships.
“She recognized the importance of having nutritious food, originally through the 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go message, which was brought into her school,” Rogers said. “Because of the opportunity we were able to provide with the funding, she was able to make the vision of healthy food a reality in her community through partnering with the Falmouth Food Pantry.”
The $1,000 grant from Healthy Casco Bay stretched far enough to allow Charest and a group of volunteers to rent a sod cutter to create the garden and purchase fence materials and plants, with some left over for fertilizer.
While the community garden was Charest’s brainchild, she could not have accomplished her goal without the help of some dedicated volunteers.
The garden was planted in the rain by a group of her “hardcore” friends and family with the help of master gardener Bill Mullin and food pantry coordinator Dottie Blanchette.
Although she has a group of volunteers regularly helping her out, Charest says she is going to need some more help with things like weeding and harvesting.
“I pulled the first weed last night,” she said. “(I’ll take) as many (volunteers) as I can get.”
Vegetables from the garden, including high-yield crops like tomatoes, peppers, squash and zucchini, will be sent exclusively to the Falmouth Food Pantry and will fill the summertime gap caused by closed schools and churches on reduces schedules.
Last year, Charest’s gardens yielded enough to make weekly deliveries to the food pantry. This year she expects there to be even more, which will help keep the pantry brimming with its most in-demand items.
“The most desired item in our food pantry is always fresh vegetables,” Blanchette said. “Usually, if we’re open, I’ll go pick up vegetables and they’re gone within the first half of the group that comes in.”
According to Blanchette, supplying the pantry with vegetables every week is getting harder and harder because there are more pantries requesting them and former sources have been cutting back their supplies.
The Falmouth Food Pantry serves 300 families, which is around 900 individuals, a number that has grown dramatically from the 35 families served when the pantry opened it’s doors three years ago.
“Every year (the need) has increased,” Blanchette said.
In addition to Charest’s gardens, Blanchette said the pantry has partnered with other community gardens for the summer to help keep the shelves stocked with vegetables. She also said she plans to have pantry patrons volunteer in the garden.
“I plan to have some of the clients from the food pantry help me,” she said. “I’ll have to pick them up and they’ll weed and water and pick vegetables. It’s a nice way to have hands on volunteer work.”
Falmouth Middle School student Meghan Charest, second from right, created a community garden to benefit the Falmouth Food Pantry with the help of master gardener Bill Mullin, right, food pantry coordinator Dottie Blanchette, and a land donation from the American Legion, represented by Arthur Frederickson.