Garden for seniors seeks public votes for national funding

Posted June 13, 2010, at 8:57 p.m.
Charlie Taylor, left, and Gayle Crowley, right, pot an upside down tomato plant on the roof top of the Hammond Street Senior Center on Saturday, June 12, 2010. The pair are in competition for a $5,000 online grant to expand the garden.  BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT
Charlie Taylor, left, and Gayle Crowley, right, pot an upside down tomato plant on the roof top of the Hammond Street Senior Center on Saturday, June 12, 2010. The pair are in competition for a $5,000 online grant to expand the garden. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT

BANGOR, Maine — On a rooftop high above the downtown streets, Charlie Taylor and Gayle Crowley are cultivating a secret garden.

Raised beds are crowded with rows of lettuce, spinach, chard and other tender greens. Beans and peas are unfolding their first leaves. Cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes are well-established. Herbs scent the air.

This mostly organic garden graces the second-story roof of the Hammond Street Senior Center. Garden-minded individuals reach the green sanctuary by ducking through a small, window-sized doorway that leads to the roof from the third-floor pottery studio.

It recalls “Alice in Wonderland,” this stepping through a diminutive doorway into a scene of such lush and surprising vegetation.

For many senior citizens, the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasure of growing things vanishes when they move into apartments or shared living arrangements, said Deanna Partridge, development and communications director for the Hammond Street Senior Center. For some, access to a garden plot is lost. Others find the work of tending a garden on their own becomes too physically demanding, she added.

The “Still Growing” community rooftop garden offers senior citizens opportunities for gentle outdoor exercise, companionship and nutritious eating, all essential components of healthy aging, Partridge said. Recently named as a finalist for up to $10,000 in grant funding, the garden project now needs a vote of confidence from the larger community to ensure its future.

To vote, visit the “Still Growing” page of Changemakers.com website, register and click the vote button.

Taylor, now in his 70s, recently moved into an in-town apartment and gave up his longtime vegetable and flower gardens.

“When I was a kid, we had three gardens, each one the size of this rooftop,” he recalled on Saturday. “All us kids had to weed before we could go play ball.” He never lost his feel for cultivating the soil, he said, so when he joined the senior center, the idea of establishing a community garden just made sense. The rooftop was the most logical and convenient place to put it. He found an enthusiastic partner in Crowley, a master gardener and senior center member who said she comes from “a long line of farmers” in the Sebec area.

Working with an initial grant from the Portland-based Martin’s Point health care organization and discounts from local building supply and garden centers, Taylor, Crowley and others from the center oversaw the building of several raised beds, first layering waterproof black rubber and absorbent felt on the roof to prevent leaks. They had bags and bags of organic mulch and topsoil brought to the rooftop on the center’s vintage elevator. They carried up tools, trellises and trays of seedlings. They set up a compost bin. Then they put it all together.

The result is a verdant and productive garden plot that offers members exercise, sunshine, fresh air, companionship and a bird’s-eye view of downtown Bangor. Food grown in the garden will be contributed to a program of health-conscious luncheons at the center.

Although the garden is already an expansive undertaking, Crowley and Taylor have even larger visions and ambitions. The rooftop railing covered in cascades of trailing nasturtiums. A small greenhouse for growing fresh vegetables through the winter. A drip irrigation system. Beehives.

All this, of course, costs money. In these hard economic times, the senior center is running on a pretty slim budget and must look to outside sources to keep the garden project growing, Partridge said.

The senior rooftop garden has been chosen as a finalist, out of nearly 350 applicants, for one of three $5,000 national grants to be awarded by the Changemakers community action program. And the garden is one of just two organizations competing for an additional $5,000 grant that will be awarded in Maine. Public votes on the Internet are needed to support the project’s selection for the awards. The deadline for voting is June 30.

“Winning this competition will usher in a huge transformation in the life of this project,” said Partridge. The project is “about quality of life and supporting independence at every stage of life,” she said.

For information about the garden project and the competition, and to vote for the future of the rooftop garden, visit the senior center’s website at www.hammondstreet.org.

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