PORTLAND — An organization that teaches kids to garden while also providing food to elderly residents will host a party at Kennedy Park this weekend to raise awareness and money for the program.
Cultivating Community is celebrating its sixth year of gardening at the Boyd Street Urban Farm, a plot of land tucked between Boyd Street and Franklin Arterial. The garden holds dozens of different kinds of vegetables and herbs, all grown and cared for by the teenagers who participate in Cultivating Community’s Youth Growers program.
Harvested food is distributed to about 30 households in Portland, and the majority of recipients are single, elderly residents. The program works like a community supported agriculture program, except not all of the participants pay.
Craig Lapine, executive director of Cultivating Community, said the program engages youth, educates them on sustainability and the environment, provides a summer job for teens (participants receive a stipend) and gets them to interact with their community through food distribution.
“Civic engagement and leadership are both big here,” Lapine said.
The second annual Boyd Street Bash, which takes place Sunday, July 19, at noon, is a chance for the community to visit the gardens, listen to music, try some of the food grown and help Cultivating Communities send this summer’s Youth Growers to a national conference they are co-hosting at Southern Maine Community College.
The conference, called “Rooted in Community,” will bring together 200 young people from across the country who are involved in sustainable agriculture, Lapine said. For four days the kids will cook and eat together and visit local farms.
“Even though we are co-hosting, it still costs $150 a kid,” Lapine explained. The other hosts are Lots to Garden of Lewiston and The Food Project of Boston. This will be the 11th Rooted in Community conference, but the first to be attended by Cultivating Community kids.
There are 10 teens participating in the current Youth Growers session. They divide their time between the Boyd Street garden and the organization’s Kennedy Park Office, and Turkey Hill Farm in Cape Elizabeth, where they are responsible for an acre of garden. Because the program’s home base is at Kennedy Park, most of the kids who participate are from the neighborhood, Lapine said. In addition to gardening, the teens cook and eat together everyday.
Janet Mathieson, a Munjoy Hill resident, is a repeat student with Youth Growers. Mathieson will enter her junior year at Middlesex School in Massachusetts this fall, where she said she attends on scholarship.
Mathieson, on a recent tour of the Boyd Street garden, said she really enjoys organizing the garden. The orchard behind the garden has peach and cherry trees, although Mathieson said Maine is not a great place climate-wise to grow cherries.
“They never really get red,” said Mathieson. “It is a variety for a northern climate.”
The Boyd Street garden has raised beds and plantings in the ground. Cultivating Community removed lead from the soil years ago by planting sunflowers. The soil is contaminate-free now. And this year, the organization added 57 community garden plots for neighbors.
While Cultivating Community was built around the Youth Growers program, the organization runs several other gardening programs, including its summer farming camp at Turkey Hill and a new program called GardenSchool, through which they provide a raised gardening bed and gardening resources for city residents who want to try gardening in their backyards.
The Boyd Street Bash is free and open to the public, and there will be raffles and bake-offs to raise money for the conference fees. For more information, go to cultivatingcommunity.org.