BANGOR, Maine — Members of the Hammond Street Senior Center watched Friday as pallets of soil, compost and lumber were lifted by a truck boom onto the second-floor roof, home of the “Still Growing” Rooftop Garden.
The materials were made possible by a $5,000 grant awarded to the senior center by the Changemakers community action program for being one of the Northeast’s best social innovators in mobilizing citizens to build a better community.
“We’re using the funds to expand the size [of the garden] and put an irrigation system in,” said Deanna Partridge, the center’s development and communications director. “It’s also helping us with really shifting the focus of the senior center. We’re looking to be a regional resource for healthy eating with produce from the garden. The grant funding is helping support fine-tuning our mission in that direction.”
Members of the center participate not only in gardening but also in harvesting, selling and cooking the produce. Partridge said the center emphasizes that healthy eating leads to healthy aging.
With the grant money, Charlie Taylor and Gayle Crowley, both Bangor residents and co-leaders of the rooftop garden project, plan to double the size of the garden and add nine raised beds.
They started the mostly organic garden after they both moved into downtown apartments and were left without land for gardening. The entrance to the garden is a window-sized doorway, reachable by three wooden steps.
“Gayle and I started it two years ago with two window boxes and buckets,” Taylor said. “It means a lot to me.”
The garden, which grows flowers along with produce such as lettuce, beans, tomatoes, squash, onion and eggplant, has since expanded to seven raised beds and several containers and boxes. Taylor and his brother Bob, also a member, built the raised beds. Partridge said there are 25 members directly involved with the garden, including people who harvest the produce.
“This has been a great unifier, because the members who like to eat, which is pretty much everyone, have really started to appreciate the growers, and the growers like having people appreciate the food they grow,” said Kathy Bernier, executive director of the senior center.
The senior center won the grant after a national panel of judges selected 15 finalists from nearly 350 applicants. The finalists had a month to get word out about their project and garner online votes.
Bernier said local businesses and organizations have supported the project by providing assistance and discounts. Along with $1,000, Martin’s Point Healthcare donated staff members to assist in the “Healthy Eating=Healthy Aging” summer workshop luncheon series, in which members cooked produce from the garden. The University of Maine Cooperate Extension is assisting with the installation of the irrigation system.
Last year, members lugged each bag of soil on the vintage elevator to the second floor, a time-consuming process, Taylor said. This year was different. Granville Stone of Holden, another supporter of the project, rented a truck with a boom for the senior center.
“It’s the most exciting thing to happen so far,” Crowley, a Master Gardener, said as pallets were lifted onto the rooftop.
Crowley and Taylor said they hope to get more members involved with the garden.
“The garden was such a unique idea that really changed the way people think of a senior center,” Partridge said. “We have people climbing out the window to garden.”