BELFAST, Maine — For years, Karen Ireland has been working to make the yard around her Cedar Street home more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
On Wednesday morning, she got a lot of help to make that slow job happen much faster, as an army of friendly gardeners used shovels, pickaxes and other nongas-powered tools to do things like create garden plots, paths and a meditation labyrinth on her property.
Six of those gardeners were young people from the internship program New England Climate Summer, who had biked in from afar to do what they’re calling a “permablitz” for Ireland.
Lauren Audi, 19, of Saratoga, N.Y., said she wasn’t getting the meaningful experience she wanted out of her academic studies at Boston College. But her summer journey has been quite different.
“I felt the most important thing I can do with my life now is to protect what I love more than anything, which is the natural environment,” she said.
She and the members of the organization’s Maine team have biked to places including Biddeford, Portland, Lewiston and Augusta, spending about a week in each location, where they have worked to educate people about something that’s important to them: climate change.
“We support a rapid and responsible transition away from fossil fuels,” said team leader Katie Herklotz, 20, of Blue Hill, who is a student at Eckerd College in Florida. “We want to communicate the urgency. We think that if climate change is not addressed, everything falls to pieces.”
Although it’s just a small step, team members said participating in the permablitz, otherwise known as helping to turn the yard into a permaculture, is a big deal.
“Permaculture is using or creating a self-sustaining life,” Audi said.
It’s also defined as an agricultural system that aims to integrate human activity with the natural world in order to create sustainable ecosystems.
Andrew Watkins, a member of the Belfast Area Transition Initiative, said the group organizes projects like the one in Ireland’s yard in an effort to help the community move away from the usage of fossil fuels.
“That means producing our own food, generating our own energy, or as much as possible,” he said. “We’ve got that going on here.”
Avery Beck, 19, of Mount Kisco, N.Y., and a student at Colby College in Waterville, said that she has learned over the summer that anyone can do things that will help them become more self-sustaining.
“You don’t have to be an expert to get started,” she said.
After the team’s week in Belfast is done, they’ll get back on their bikes and head south to Brunswick, hauling two bicycle trailers behind them filled with gear. Although the summer experience will end after spending a week working in East Boston in August, they will return to their colleges with a lot to think about.
“It’s inspired us,” Audi said. “Change isn’t going to come from the government. It’s going to come from local people.”
One of those local people — Karen Ireland — said she has been inspired, too.
“This is absolutely thrilling,” she said, looking at the workers busily transforming her yard. “I love what [the students] are doing, and their agenda in getting us off our oil dependence is wonderful.”
She’s also looking forward to spending time walking in her new meditation labyrinth and enjoying the low-maintenance garden plots.
“They will maintain themselves more with less labor,” she said. “And every year what I grow in them will add to the richness of the soil.”
All involved said that they appreciated the fact that others in the neighborhood around from around Belfast also came out to help. Ireland said more would join the 15 people working at midday.
“Everybody’s been together,” said Greg LeMieux, 22, of Clinton, Iowa, and a student at Virginia Tech. “It’s like a family.”