BANGOR, Maine — City officials are considering building a second community garden in Bangor with the intent to supply local food pantries with fresh produce in warm weather months.
Providing a steady supply of healthful food options can be a challenge with limited space and a shorter shelf life for fresh fruits and vegetables when compared to canned, processed and preserved food items, according to organizations that supply food to poor and at-risk families in the area.
“One of the hardest things to do is to eat healthy and afford it,” said Bill Rae, director of Manna Ministries, which serves dinners to struggling area residents and opens its food pantry to about 400 families each week. “If the city did this, it would be so beneficial to the needs that we have.”
Raye said his shelter has about a half an acre of land it uses to grow crops in summer months, but “the supply just doesn’t last,” he said. “Any more we can have is great. It’s the cheapest way to feed people in need.”
Rowena Griffith, program manager for the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, echoed Raye’s sentiments. The shelter serves about 36,000 meals to its residents and impoverished community members each year. It also operates a food pantry out of its basement that serves 120 families per month.
Keeping supplies in stock is always a challenge, Griffith said, but fresh produce is especially hard to maintain in the pipeline because of its limited shelf life. The shelter finds ways to use it quickly and consistently, however, using donated fruits and vegetables to cook up meals for residents.
The shelter recently purchased planting pots to grow a collection of seedling donations received recently. Those vegetables will be put in the parking lot, the only space the shelter has available for such an effort.
In 2011, the city opened Bangor Community Garden on Essex Street after a group of residents decided they wanted to produce their own food despite not having their own land to till. That garden is operated through an agreement between the city, University of Maine Cooperative Extension and National ABLE, an organization that provides subsidized wages to eligible individuals to perform community services so they can develop necessary skills while on the job skills that prepare them for unsubsidized work. Those same groups likely would be involved in this new garden as well.
The current Essex Street garden has about 80-90 raised beds that are in use, and the city is planning an expansion at the site. It has been a strong success, according to Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette. Individual gardeners can rent plots to use, and organizations can rent multiple beds with the intent to distribute to food pantries and similar groups.
The site of the potential new garden hasn’t been selected, Willette said, but likely would need to have a nearby water source, space to store materials, room for expansion and be easily accessible to residents.
“More people are realizing that fresh, local and organic [food] products are critically important to health and nutrition,” Willette said.
The expansion of community gardening is a way to spread that awareness, offer hands-on growing opportunities and allow people to feel connectedness with the earth.
The concept, which is still in its early stages and likely wouldn’t be put into action until next season, received strong support from councilors.
“I think as more and more people learn about where their food currently comes from, there’s an increased desire to grow locally,” Council Chairman Ben Sprague said during a recent committee meeting. “I can think of no better use for city land than to grow food for our families, neighbors and those in need.”