“Access to healthy food is a human right.” That in a nutshell is Cultivating Community’s core belief, its raison d’être.

“That is why we work to open land access to people who otherwise would not have land to grow food on,” explains Lesley Heiser, Cultivating Community’s communications and development leader.

Making land available is only one part of the organization’s mission of ensuring availability of healthy food, but it is a key component. And it is one that received a great boost in late July, when the Falmouth Land Trust, as proprietor and working with the town, leased its 62 acres at Hurricane Valley Farm to Cultivating Community.

“We had been looking for a Cumberland County property for a long time, so we’re very pleased that we were chosen” (to be the lessor), Heiser said.

The farm will become a new home for many of Cultivating Community’s core programs for youth, beginning farmers, and community gardeners. How exactly the land will be used will be decided following a community design process facilitated by The Resilience Hub, a Portland-based permaculture advisory group, Heiser said.

But plans include crop production on considerable arable acreage, and “we’re planning to have livestock, maybe goats initially. There’s a little home on the property for our farm manager.”

Since 2009 – the same year its New Americans Sustainable Agriculture Project (NASAP) was founded – Cultivating Community has operated another major farm site, 36 acres at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon.

“Generally, the farmers there live in Lewiston, so there is a precedent for people in cities going out a few miles to farm,” Heiser said. As does Packard-Littlefield, Hurricane Valley will “provide not only lots of opportunities to grow food, but also for people to be educated about agriculture and food justice and the food system.”

Education has always been a top priority for the organization – “in 2016, a total of 103 farmers and advanced gardeners participated in NASAP,” Heiser mentioned – and hearkens back to Cultivating Community’s beginnings.

CC started in 2001 when Craig Lapine, who is now executive director, worked in partnership with the Portland Housing Authority to launch the Youth Growers gardening program. CC was incorporated as a non-profit in 2003.

Funding comes from USDA and private foundation grants, plus donations, and a small amount of earned income also helps.

“We are mostly philanthropically funded, and we’re very grateful for that,” Heiser said.

With 11 full-time and 11 part-time seasonal employees, CC operates an impressive range of programs, from engaging elementary school students in gardening and healthy eating, to supporting people in launching new farm businesses, to co-creating diverse ways for people to access healthy food – including a mobile market, a 400-plus subscriber CSA, and a food hub, Fresh Start Farms.

Heiser emphasized the importance of CC’s partnership with the City of Portland in managing 10 municipal gardens. “Six hundred participants garden in individual or common-share plots, and every year 150 volunteers help build, maintain, and nurture the garden spaces.”

On a recent visit to the Boyd Street Urban Farm alongside Marginal Way, Kevin Wilson was tending his two plots, a vigorous mix of vegetables, flowers and berries. “The program really does a lot for the people here,” he said, gesturing towards the apartment buildings across the street.

At Valley Street later that day, Kerry Hanney was making serial trips to the spigot to water her crops. She talked about gardeners sharing tips at the site, and about multiple generations – a woman with her grandkids, for example – working together.

Some of Hanney’s produce goes into the bread she bakes for her business, Night Moves. More of her crops are donated to The Locker Project, which serves food-insecure children. Wilson, for his part, gives most of what he grows to his Kennedy Park neighbors, who are primarily immigrants.

Both on farms and in small gardens, the Cultivating Community approach seems to work very well.

For more information, visit cultivatingcommunity.org, and see the Cultivating Community profile on Facebook.

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Lee Auto Malls. The Lee family is committed to supporting local organizations that work to sustain Maine communities.

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