Two hundred pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes yields 45 jars of sauce for family and neighbors. This delicious goodness will last through the long, cold Maine winter.

Brentwood Farms, situated on just over 2 acres of city-owned land next to Evergreen Cemetery, represents the latest trend in city-community sponsorships that provide community gardens in neighborhoods without city-managed gardens.

When the Deering Center Neighborhood Association approached the city of Portland with the offer to build a garden using volunteer labor and donations, we entered a productive partnership, allowing for city oversight without taxing a strained city budget.

Last year, neighbors and several local businesses joined to build a beautiful and bountiful urban garden. It includes plots for 65 families, 20 common share beds, community orchards, herb beds and berry patches for all local residents to enjoy.

Kate O’Brien joined Brentwood Gardens after a spending a year on the city’s community garden wait list.

As a mother with limited means who values fresh fruits and vegetables in her family’s diet, Kate had been searching for a safe place to grow her own food.

The results of a soil test in her own yard ruled out the garden bed outside her window where the lead levels were way too high.

But with her community garden plot, Kate is able to grow her food and offset the cost of fresh produce on her grocery bills. She is able to avoid lead and other contaminants in her produce and enjoy a fresh source of food.

As a bonus, the garden is a favorite place for her son Owen, who has learned about caring for the vegetables his mom is now serving at their kitchen table.

Brentwood Garden is located on an old snow and materials dumping ground for the city. With a generous donation from the Risbara family, whose family had owned and operated a farm on the site in the 1930s, neighborhood volunteers restored the site to health by scraping away the old fill and replacing the soil with clean, fresh loam.

In its second season, the community garden is an urban lot restored to full health and productivity.

Gardening together makes sense. The gardeners share resources and experience with others who otherwise cannot garden in their own yard, or who need assistance. It is always easy to find someone to help turn a plot, teach you how to deal with garden pests, or water your plot while you are away.

Grif Matthews, a retiree who relocated to Portland from Liming-ton, where he owned 46 acres and farmed over an acre of produce, now enjoys cultivating his 8-by-10 plot at Brentwood. He says it is a pleasure to him to watch young parents and their children intently examining the cucumbers and beans they have grown together.

Restoring this urban farm has had many rewards, but none so sweet as the taste of a ripe sungold tomato just off the vine.

Just ask young Owen O’Brien, who likes to pop one into his mouth as soon as he finds and picks it.

– Special to the Telegram


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