(Garden) Building Community Resilience
Addie Wright, Community Rewilding Fellow, sits down with Margaret Patkus, an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with Maine Foodscapes, to learn more about the organization and what they do to improve community health and well-being in southern Maine.
In early June, the Resilience Corps spent a sunny afternoon volunteering with the local non-profit organization Maine Foodscapes, whose mission is to improve food security and well-being throughout Southern Maine. We began the day building raised beds as part of the Foodscapes Garden Project (FGP), a program that connects Mainers experiencing low income with the tools needed to start growing their own food. Through the FGP, Maine Foodscapes partners with families and local organizations to build on-site community vegetable gardens with local organizations serving clients vulnerable to food insecurity. Each FGP garden includes up to three 4x8 raised beds, filled with compost/soil, and supplemented with organic seeds/seedlings, as well as continued garden mentorship (mainefoodscapes.org).
Later in the day, we did the same construction of raised beds with an after-school program at The Root Cellar. With the help of some enthusiastic young helpers, we helped the organization expand their efforts to provide food security for the surrounding Portland community.
The excitement and impact surrounding our day of service was tangible within our group. In order to better understand the full scope of Maine Foodscapes work and the role of volunteers, I spoke with Margaret Patkus, an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with Maine Foodscapes who spent the afternoon with us at Root Cellar. Margaret serves as the Development Manager, helping to create meaningful community connections and improve community health and well-being in southern Maine.
Addie: Tell me more about Maine Foodscapes, what communities do you serve and what does the mission of the organization look like in practice?
Margaret: Since our founding, we have proudly served over 400 individuals through our work installing over 350 raised vegetable garden beds for 121 households and organizations across 51 towns within Cumberland, Oxford, York, and Androscoggin counties. We have received over 1500 garden applications and look forward to building our capacity and working with community partners to meet this need.
In 2022, Maine Foodscapes’ Garden Project installed 23 home gardens across 21 towns throughout Southern Maine. 74% of those households have children in the home (38 children total). We served a total of 117 individuals, both children and adults, through our garden builds. Maine Foodscapes is working to build our capacity so that we can build more gardens each Spring.
In addition to the FGP, Maine Foodscapes also offers ongoing educational and therapeutic programming in garden-based settings for youth and seniors, and hosts regular cooking, planting, and wellness workshops and events open to the community.
Addie: Why is there a need for a program like this in Maine?
Margaret: The work of Maine Foodscapes is the work of creating more resilient communities. By building home and community vegetable gardens, we are improving direct access to fresh produce and inhibiting barriers to food access such as cost or lack of transportation. This creates more resilience because access to food, a fundamental human right and basic need, is threatened by these structural barriers, as well as other factors such as climate change. We see our work as having two main objectives: to improve food security throughout Southern Maine and to create community connections, and therefore a sense of belonging and support. In our eyes, both of these objectives create more resilient communities!
Addie: Why are volunteers necessary to the work of Maine Foodscapes?
Margaret: Volunteers are indispensable to the success of our programming! We rely heavily on volunteer labor to complete our garden build season each Spring. We recruit individual volunteers and also partner with businesses and organizations (such as GPCOG Resilience Corps!) to recruit volunteer groups for garden builds. We love working with volunteers—it’s a great opportunity to create more community connections, and is key to achieving our program objectives (more gardens for more local families, organizations, and schools). We also love to have volunteers support our educational programming through teaching community workshops on gardening or planting topics, and by getting involved with our garden-based educational programming for local youth (e.g., at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine).
Addie: What was your favorite part of our volunteer day?
Margaret: It was so great to see GPCOG Resilience Corps members connect with the youth group at The Root Cellar that was also participating in the on-site garden build! The kids were super engaged in helping to construct the raised garden beds, and it seemed meaningful for the Resilience Corps members to be able to connect with community youth.
To learn more about the work of Maine Foodscapes, visit https://www.mainefoodscapes.org
Addie grew up in Richmond, Virginia before moving to Fort Collins to get their B.S. in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University. They spent their summers interning at the Nature Conservancy of Colorado and working with a film project that deepens public understanding of sacred places, indigenous cultures, and environmental justice. After college, Addie has spent time in Northern California working in community development and moved to Maine after a fifty-day outdoor educator course with Outward Bound. Outside of work, they love hiking, running, swimming, and anything involving whitewater. On slower days, Addie loves reading, writing, and going to the beach with their dog. Addie believes in the power of equipping communities with the tools to implement environmentally focused practices and they are excited to continue this work and gain more experience as the Community Rewilding Fellow!