SOUTH PORTLAND — Liberty Bryer tore up her entire lawn in April to make room for a more edible landscape.
Towering sunflowers, 48 tomato plants, a few rows of green beans and an assortment of herbs have come to fruition in the lawn’s place, enough to help feed the community.
Bryer teamed up with Wayside Soup Kitchen to plant a 2,000-square-foot community garden in her yard on Edwards Street, in the Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood.
“That has been part of my hope and intent, that people would realize, yes, they can grow for themselves and for other people,” she said.
Bryer, who moved to Maine last August from the Virgin Islands, started gardening with the intent of growing her own vegetables.
But her garden dream grew when she met Wayside worker Carly Milkowski at a food drive in December.
Milkowski helps run the Wayside Food Rescue program, which finds, collects and redistributes food that would otherwise go to waste, such as nearly expired items, food with damaged packages and vegetables that are shaped strangely.
Bryer offered her yard to the cause upon hearing about a similar project that fell through due to the sale of the property.
“It has definitely become a community project, and we’re harvesting now. So now it will be feeding the community, too,” Milkowski said.
Over the next few weeks, the garden’s produce will be distributed among four soup kitchen sites and 42 agencies in Cumberland County.
Bryer and Milkowski won’t harvest alone.
Every Wednesday morning a group of students from LearningWorks’ Youth Building Alternatives program come to get their hands dirty.
They began harvesting last week, plucking a few cupfuls of pole beans and two bright red tomatoes.
Garrett Mayo, 18, of South Portland collected harmful Japanese beetles from the canopy of plants, exterminating by hand since the garden is grown organically.
Megan Petitto, 17, and Anthony Gettle, 21, gathered pole beans, snapping them off one at a time and plunking them into a red bucket.
“I’m becoming a chef, so I have to learn about this stuff,” Gettle said about the garden full of ingredients.
Bryer, who has been eating out of her personal garden for a month, keeps an eye on the adjacent Wayside garden during the week, emailing Milkowski about vegetable developments.
Soon after they started the garden a few months ago, they were joined in their efforts by curious neighbors and several local businesses.
“It felt a little crazy at first, trying to kill the grass by laying down cardboard, and then crawling around digging out clumps of sod,” Milkowski said.
When laying down cardboard failed to kill the grass, Tammaro Landscaping arrived to till the yard.
Town and Country Federal Credit Union and Broadway Gardens donated tools and seeds.
After receiving so many donations, Wayside spent less than $30 to start up the garden.
“Now we have this beautiful garden and food coming out of it that’s been grown with a lot of love to help the community,” Milkowski said.
Bryer said the plan is to grow a larger variety of edibles in her yard next year.
“People spend a lot of time and money on lawns,” she said. “It could be something they could get satisfaction from, the fulfillment and independence of growing their own food and knowing it’s healthy. It’s doable.”
Staff Writer Colleen Stewart can be contacted at 791-6355 or at: [email protected]