Amanda Ingraham peered under a leaf on a tomato plant Sunday morning.
“Should I pick that tomato? That one’s perfect. I’m afraid if I leave it, it won’t be in a few days,” she told Kati Corlew, the coordinator of the community garden and garden labyrinth on the University of Maine at Augusta’s campus in Bangor.
“Oh, yeah. Let’s get all the perfect stuff out,” Corlew, an assistant professor of psychology, replied.
The women work Sunday and Thursday mornings, when it is not raining, with other volunteers to weed and harvest vegetables from the gardens in the center of campus. The project was started in 2016 by a Vista volunteer working with veterans on campus.
“He wanted to create this space where people could work on the land, recreate outside and help address some of the food insecurity issues we have on campus,” Corlew said.
By 2018, the garden had tripled in size to grow vegetables for the student pantry named Food for Thought. The focus is on food that students and their families can snack on, such as carrots and tomatoes, rather than zucchini and other vegetables that need to be cooked.
In one corner of the original garden, sage is growing. It will be used by Native American students in ceremonies. In a newer bed, peppers and beans are being grown. Students plan to have a chili cookout in the fall using them. Another bed is home to native plants that will allow botany students to study them on campus.
This year, a garden labyrinth was added next to the beds. It is similar to one on the Augusta campus.
A labyrinth is similar to a maze, but unlike a maze, which has branches, a labyrinth is one single path, according to instructables.com. A labyrinth’s path is easy to follow and is not constructed with the intention of making the participant feel confused or lost. Labyrinths are used as meditation tools, to calm and focus the participant.
The Bangor campus’ labyrinth includes a path that circles into a center area where flowers intended to attract butterflies have been planted. On either side of the path vegetables have been planted in hills.
Food grown in different sections of the labyrinth will go to different organizations in Greater Bangor that have food banks or serve meals, including the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, the Health Equity Alliance, the Indian Island food pantry, Shaw House, which serves homeless teens, and the Bangor Area Recovery Network.
“We asked them what they wanted us to grow for them and planted accordingly,” Corlew said. “We now have our harvest starting to come in and it’s really exciting.”
Ingraham, who took a course from Corlew last year, decided the labyrinth would be a perfect place for a story walk aimed at children. The first book she chose is “Jack’s Garden” by Henry Cole.
Laminated pages from the book are attached to stakes near vegetables growing in labyrinth.
“I really like the idea of promoting literacy and encouraging language among children and adults,” Ingraham said. “It’s a great way to get children to be thinking about things that they may not be thinking about otherwise.”
The story will change every two to four weeks.
The labyrinth was created with the help of Andrea Simoneau, the freelance art director at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine.
“We wanted to do a project integrating food security and art and we wanted to create something beautiful,” Corlew said. “We broke ground at the end of August. We had a lot of help from students and community volunteers.”
The labyrinth was funded by the University of Maine at Augusta and small grants obtained through the Peace and Justice Center.
Neither Corlew nor Ingrahm had any experience gardening before working in the community garden on campus. Corlew now is enrolled in the master gardener program through the Cooperative Extension Program at the University of Maine.
“You don’t really need to have any knowledge to help out,” Corlew said. “Just come, put seeds in the ground and watch them grow.”
Volunteers work in the garden from 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays and Thursdays. For information, visit UMA Community Garden’s Facebook page.