By Nick Kaye
Special to The Weekly
ORONO — In the 1980s, an engineering professor, a poetry professor, a contractor and several graduate students came together to construct the Terrell House at the University of Maine. Located at 491A College Ave., the house was created as a solar energy experiment and site for interdisciplinary research.
After the Terrell House’s primary resident, professor Carroll Terrell, passed away in 2003, a group of students submitted a proposal to transform the house into a sustainability education center. The proposal was approved in 2012, and the house is now known as the Terrell House Permaculture Living and Learning Center.
A dedicated and diverse group of volunteers, including three resident stewards, hold educational demonstrations and community gatherings at the house. Most recently, they launched a community garden.
The project began as a small 15- by 25-foot fenced garden shared by the Terrell House and its neighbours. House residents also added a small pollinator garden last year. This year, they initiated the first phase of a much larger community garden with plots available for individuals and groups interested in practicing sustainable agriculture.
“We want the garden to become a hub for sustainability on campus,” said Dee Clark, Terrell House resident and finance and records coordinator.
Since the garden was installed earlier this year, student organizations, alumni, Orono residents and Terrell House residents have tended to its plots. The garden’s contents include berries, plums, grapes, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, flower beds and more.
“Our only hard rule is no pesticide use. We want this to be a space for experimentation,” said Mike Emery, resident steward and volunteer and outreach coordinator for the Terrell House. “We’re all learning together.”
The community garden stretches across approximately a quarter acre of previously unused lawn space at the Terrell House. Its layout, centered around a 32-foot mandala garden with eight keyhole beds and a sundial, combines artistic expression and precise geometry.
All three house residents completed a permaculture design course before collaborating on the layout. Their goal was to create a garden that is both visually appealing and self-sustaining. They make use of permaculture techniques such as companion planting, which is the practice of planting different crops in close proximity to pollinate, control pests and otherwise increase productivity. Volunteers at the garden are constantly researching, experimenting and sharing ideas.
“A big part of the plan is to have the garden function as an outdoor classroom,” said Eileen Hagerman, Terrell House resident, and grounds and research coordinator. She hopes that the garden eventually will become a component of various UMaine courses. The University of Maine Department of Intermedia and the Peace Studies program already have expressed support.
The garden has attracted the interest of diverse segments of campus. A group of engineering students recently helped install a garden berm that is able to accommodate gardeners with a variety of physical disabilities.
The Terrell House community garden is just one part of a growing sustainability movement on campus. UMaine Greens, a student-run greenhouse project, is working to provide fresh, local greens for the salad bar at Maine Marketplace in the Memorial Union. Students also are working at Black Bear Food Guild to make fresh produce readily available to members of the community both on and off campus.
“UMaine was founded as an agricultural university, so it’s great to see everything that’s going on now,” said Clark.
Clark, Emery and Hagerman are planning a number of educational and community-building events to be held at Terrell House, including harvest dinners, open houses and garden tours. Details on these events are forthcoming.
For information or to volunteer, contact Mike Emery at 215-7441 or visit umaine.edu/sustainability/community/terrell-house/.