THORNDIKE — About a year ago, Isabel McKay and her husband, Rick Thompson, closed Half Moon Gardens, their 20-acre farm and greenhouses.

For eight years, they grew plants, vegetable seedlings and organic lettuce and supplied pet food, farm supplies and livestock feed to the public.

“When we bought the greenhouse in 2005, gas prices were under two dollars per gallon. People would come from Augusta, Bangor, Waterville, Belfast. As prices crept up, people were being very careful as to how far they traveled. Thorndike isn’t a big commercial center where people can get a lot of things done at once,” said McKay, 54, of Brooks. She said the business couldn’t run on local retail alone, but it was too big to sell in the hopes of making a profit. The farm’s five greenhouses total about 32,000 square feet of growing space.

“Who’s going to buy a greenhouse of that size in a very rural area?” said McKay. “It would be better suited for education.”

McKay and Thompson recently gave the land and buildings to Unity College, about three miles away, with plans to expand its sustainable agriculture program. The gift is valued at $1.2 million, made up of the property and greenhouses and a $1 million financial donation – the second largest in the school’s history, to cover the operating cost for five years, said McKay. The largest donation was a $10 million anonymous one in 2011.

“This expands the possibilities and capabilities of what our faculty and students can do. It’s really a substantial gift and something we’re very excited about,” said Melik Khoury, Unity College’s senior vice president of external affairs.

With the planned expansion, Unity College joins Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield as one of two area schools that are developing programs to teach hands-on agricultural skills. KVCC launched two new agriculture programs this year and plans to add another two in 2014.

Unity’s sustainable agriculture program, which started in the fall of 2012, enrolls about 15 students, but the college is hoping to expand it, said Khoury.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@centralmaine.com