Recovery grows in Portland garden

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PORTLAND — Will Zinn was wondering how he might use some North Deering land he bought.

Rob Korobkin was wondering how he might help people who come to the city to recover from substance use disorders become better integrated into the community.

Each weekend, their collaboration is now taking root as the Portland Recovery Community Garden at 310 Allen Ave.

“We have all these sober houses and halfway houses,” Korobkin said May 5. “People are coming here, but they live here, and don’t actually ‘live’ here.'”

On Sunday, Zinn, Korobkin, and other volunteers set up raised planter boxes on the lot between a home and Bangor Savings Bank.

“I think it is just about getting people outside in the nice weather, getting exercise, learning permaculture and getting healthy,” Zinn said May 4.

For several weeks, people have been coming out for work that begins at 9 a.m. The beans and greens are planted, other crops are coming as the weather warms, and volunteers are welcome through September.

Korobkin emphasized the garden is not just for people in recovery, but the produce that is harvested will become a healthy alternative to food often found at sober houses, he said.

“One of the dynamics I have seen is how much junk food people eat. You walk into these halfway houses and you see a counter full of chips, cakes and cookies,” Korobkin said.

A former City Council candidate who ran unsuccessfully against Councilor Spencer Thibodeau in 2015, Korobkin said he is relying on his girlfriend, Julia Stiles, for the practical gardening guidance.

“I got sober and I found a lovely woman, and we eat really good food. It is a piece for me of what it means to be healthy,” he said.

Preparing the harvest will also provide some life lessons Korobkin and Zinn said would be valuable.

Zinn said the garden has received support from throughout the Portland area. Greencare Landscape of Scarborough cleared the lot. Garbage to Gardens donated 2 cubic feet of compost, and Mike Skillin of Skillins Greenhouses provided seeds and a store credit. The garden Go Fund Me page was almost halfway to its $1,500 goal Monday.

Korobkin said raking, digging, planting, weeding and harvesting will provide therapy of its own.

“The other piece is so much of what we do for sober people is keeping them inside and putting them in circles,” he said. “I’ve benefited from therapy and psychiatry, but I also see a value in getting out there and getting a little dirty.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Will Zinn and Rob Korobkin watch the Portland Recovery Community Garden come to life May in North Deering. Zinn owns the land, Korobkin suggested the garden.

Brian Hall, left, Sean Jenkins and Cecil Solaguren, residents of Ocean House, a sober living home in Portland, prepare a planter box May 7 at a new community garden in North Deering.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.