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Falmouth garden fertile ground for UMaine farm educators

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Falmouth garden fertile ground for UMaine farm educators

FALMOUTH — Hidden behind a relatively new suburban housing development off Clearwater Drive is Tidewater Farm, a one-acre garden at the mouth of the Presumpscot River.

The farm, a demonstration garden for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension program, teaches skills in horticulture and agriculture, including composting, beekeeping, and vertical gardening, among others. It's also used for the popular Master Gardener certification program, said Amy Witt, UMaine home horticulturist at the extension.

"The biggest thing we teach people is different farming skills to help with food security and sustainable practices," Witt said.

The garden grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as ornamental plants. It also has a composting area and a shed with a cleaning sink.

Witt said the garden is intended to be a learning ground for gardening in Maine, noting that its close proximity to wetlands and frequent high winds create a representative environment for farming in the state.

"We want to show someone that they are able to garden and that it's not going to be high maintenance," she said. "Plants can survive in these conditions and you can do it without a lot of work involved."

In August, the farm received a $25,000 anonymous donation that helped the extension purchase a new John Deere tractor. The tractor will also be used to teach tractor safety classes.

The program is also hoping to raise another $10,000 to purchase more farm implements and gardening supplies for gardening classes, said Doug Babkirk, the extension's associate director.

Witt said the program also hopes to offer more workshops and a larger gardening area next spring.

The garden's produce is grown in coordination with the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, which helps stock food pantries across the state with fresh produce.

In 2012, the garden produced 18,000 pounds of food for Cumberland County food pantries. Statewide, the initiative produced 290,000 pounds of food for pantries and communities in need, Witt said.

Tidewater Farm also partners with Cultivating Community and the Center for African Heritage.

Although the garden is now only about an acre in size, Witt said it may eventually expand in phases to three acres.

The extension moved into its Clearwater Drive facility in April 2011 after spending the last 40 years renting a small house on the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland.

The new office, a mixed-use building with store fronts on the bottom and condominiums on top, offers an array of programs from research to community education. It also has kitchen where many of its classes are taught, including the Master Food Preservers program.

The extension also offers food safety classes for large-quantity cooking, like soup kitchens and other public meal-serving programs, Administrative Associate Andrea Herr said.

As part of the community education programs, it also provides soil kits, which allow people to detect what is already in their soil so they are not over-fertilizing and polluting, she said.

The extension also has a staff research veterinarian, Herr said, who can conduct tests for common dangerous viruses, including West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

The program is also active with Maine 4H Clubs and programs to teach kids about sustainable living and agriculture, Herr said, including the Eat Well low-income nutrition program.

The extension will hold its annual meeting Thursday, Sept. 19. The event is open to the public and will feature the latest sustainable practices in horticulture and agriculture, Babkirk said.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff