Maine Coast Heritage Trust stewardship staff is finding more and more opportunities to develop agricultural programs on our preserves, grow crops for local communities, and share lessons learned with partner organizations. This year's growing season is beginning with great promise.
Aldermere Farm & Erickson Fields
Any conversation about agriculture at MCHT has to begin with the Aldermere Farm and Erickson Fields preserves. Building on successful efforts from previous years, MCHT's Aldermere Farm staff has put together an ambitious agenda in 2012 for both properties including a number of new initiatives.
Once again, the Aldermere Achievers will be a core component of the farm's summer and fall activities. Aldermere Achievers, the farm's 4-H club, was recognized at numerous fairs last year for their excellent care and training of Aldermere's Belted Galloways. This year's team of achievers has some big shoes to fill, but they are eager to meet the challenges. Assisting their efforts this summer will be the farm's General Manager Ron Howard, Herd Manager Heidi Baker, and summer intern Drake Babcock. A senior at Purdue University, Drake is bringing to Aldermere a breadth of experiences from his home in Indiana, a state with a proud farming tradition.
At the Erikson Fields Preserve, Community-Program Manager Heather Halsey has been busy putting together this year's Teen Ag Crew. Comprised of seven high school aged students, four working full-time and three part-time, the Teen Ag Crew hopes to build upon the efforts of last year's crew by providing healthy food to the nearby high school, as well as by delivering thousands of pounds of produce to local food banks. Once again this year, MCHT will be partnering with the Maine Media Workshops to provide an opportunity for a photography student to document the Teen Ag Crew in action through a class led by renowned conservation photojournalist Bridget Besaw.
Other activities at Erickson Fields this year will include Kids Can Grow and community gardens. Through Kids Can Grow, families will be trained and provided the materials to assemble a 3X5-foot raised-bed at their own home. The community garden effort includes 25 beds (4X20 feet) where individuals are given the opportunity to grow food for their families and/or to help support local food pantries.
Wolfe's Neck Farm
Inspired by the success at Aldermere Farm and Erickson Fields, MCHT staff has been working on ways to replicate this agricultural programming in more communities. This year, for example, the Trust is partnering with Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport. Wolfe's Neck Farm, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the long tradition of sustainable agriculture, recreation and education at its 626-acre saltwater farm, is in the process this year of developing their own Farm Hands, 4H, and Teen Ag programs. Their efforts have been supported by MCHT in many ways: financially, through the loaning of livestock, with volunteer support from the Aldermere Achievers, and with the assistance and advice of Aldermere Farm staff.
This spring at MCHT"s Babson Creek Preserve in Somesville, Regional Steward Billy Helprin has been busy establishing a community garden. Located across the street from the MDI office in a field near the MCHT Stewardship Barn, the 50 foot by 70 foot area has been tilled, the area has been surrounded by an electric fence, and planting has begun. Plans for this initial year are to offer plots to neighboring landowners - most nearby homes lack ideal sites for vegetable gardens. Long range, Billy hopes to work with the Hancock County Cooperative Extension to develop a Kids Can Grow program similar to the existing one at MCHT's Erickson Fields Preserve. Making the land available to more local residents in future years is an additional objective.
Bog Brook Cove
At MCHT's Bog Brook Cove Preserve in Trescott efforts to improve the existing blueberry crop and transition to organic continue to progress. Regional Steward Melissa Lee is working closely with a college-aged, work crew of six. Despite the arduous work responsibilities, these young stewards have exhibited excitement and enthusiasm as they weed, mulch, spread sulfur, and propane torch areas infested with deleterious insects. Most members of the work crew are environmental science majors and in addition to learning much about managing blueberries, they are gaining a lot of knowledge of the preserve's natural communities.
One crew member, in particular, is using the opportunity to further her education. Liz Hull is a Horticultural major who is also filling the position of research assistant this summer and helping with the existing four-year study designed to assess the transition from conventional to organic. Among the subjects being studied include: impact of sulfur on weeds by altering the pH, the effectiveness of different weeding methods, how the plants are being pollinated, and impact on the pH level of the soil, blueberry leaves and berries themselves. We plan to share what we learn with other growers.