More than 100 baby blackberry and raspberry bushes line the trails of Bangor’s Walden-Parke Preserve, and more food-bearing plants will soon join them. Pear trees, grapevines, blueberries, wild rice — the list goes on and on.
These young plants are a part of Bangor Land Trust’s new Edible Landscape Project, an effort to increase food sources for wildlife and visitors on Bangor preserves.
“It’s an opportunity not only to take care of the animals on our preserves, but also to take care of people,” said Lucy Quimby, president of the Bangor Land Trust. “It’s just enormously satisfying to be able to go into a natural area and find things that you would like to eat. … It reinforces our relationship with plants and nature.”
To lead the project, Bangor Land Trust hired habitat specialist Kathy Pollard of Orono, owner of Know Your Land Consulting. This spring, Pollard spent several weeks walking the land trust’s 800-plus acres of conserved land, mapping out where to plant various trees and bushes.
She decided to focus the first plantings in Walden-Parke Preserve along the Blue Jay Trail. Just a short walk from the trailhead, between 100 and 150 raspberry and blackberry canes now line the trail. She chose this location because it’s easily accessible by visitors.
“By next year, those will all be producing succulent, wonderful fruit,” Pollard said. “So people can be walking or biking along and stop and grab a little cup full.”
This fall, Pollard plans to transplant wild rice plants from a location in central Maine (where she has received permission). And this winter, she’ll propagate a variety of plants from cuttings.
“We anticipate being able to put out literally hundreds and hundreds of little baby cuttings that in no time at all will turn into an abundance of food,” Pollard said. “So it’s really exciting. There’s a huge variety of plants and food in the fruit, nut and berry category.”
High-bush blueberry, elderberry and chokeberry bushes are in her plans, as are plum, pear, crabapple and American chestnut trees.
“In the Greater Bangor Area, the Bangor Land Trust is surrounded by a lot of pressure and development, which equals habitat loss for wildlife and then food loss,” Pollard said. “Being able to improve offerings within conserved lands is really benefiting wildlife.”
Early stages of the project are also taking place in Bangor Land Trust’s Central Penjajawoc Preserve, which is located off Essex Street in Bangor. On Sept. 4, Pollard and her daughter, Ann Pollard Ranco, visited the property to plant black walnut tree seedlings.
“Not only can wildlife benefit from it, but when I grew up further south, we gathered barrels and barrels of black walnuts every year and that was a staple food in my home,” Pollard said.
So far, the project has received $10,000 in funds from the Quimby Family Foundation and another $10,000 from the Davis Conservation Fund. And the Bangor Land Trust plans to apply for additional grants, Quimby said.
To cut costs, Pollard is collecting seedlings and cuttings from free sources when possible. For example, she found the black walnut seedlings in flower beds at Woodman’s Bar and Grill and University Credit Union in Orono, where the young trees served the role of being “weeds.” She gained permission to dig them up for the project, and cleaned up the flower beds in the process.
Members of the public can contribute to the project through gifts of seeds, seedlings and cuttings of food-bearing plants that will grow well in the wild. Also, the Bangor Land Trust is interested in working with school classes that are interested in participating in plant propagation this winter or spring.
“There are so many things that you read in the news now about people just trashing the planet. It’s very gloomy,” Quimby said. “It’s nice to be able to do something that will bear fruit and make the planet more habitable.”
Visitors to Bangor Land Trust preserves are welcome to harvest what food they find. However, the land trust asks that people only harvest for personal use — not to sell — and to always leave some fruits, nuts and berries for other visitors and wildlife.
Also, a word of caution: not all the fruits and berries on land trust preserves are safe for people to eat. Be sure to identify what you’re picking by using a plant guide. Also, educational signs about the plants and the overall project are in the works, Quimby said. These signs will be posted in strategic locations throughout the preserves.
“It’s really about reciprocity, the opportunity to give back to the natural world,” Quimby said. “And it gives more ways for people to connect in a deeply meaningful way to our preserves.”
If interested in volunteering or donating to the project, call the Bangor Land Trust at 207-942-1010 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.