From left, Kent Redford, Joshua Foley and Davy Wiltse work on a grape arbor Aug. 31 at 277 Broadturn Road in Scarborough at a Permablitz gardening event. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

SCARBOROUGH — Thrusting a shovel into her garden, Cathleen Miller wiped her brow and smiled as strangers and family members alike helped her turn the soil. Gatherings like these, she explained, help build strong relationships with nature and foster community.

On Aug. 31, over 20 people gathered at her property on 277 Broadturn Road for a Permablitz — a gathering of people who come together to create edible gardens, share skills related to sustainable living and build community.

“I just want to cultivate a welcoming space anyone can enjoy,” Miller said.

Pamela Shaw lays down newspaper to use as mulch during a Permablitz event in Scarborough. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

The event was hosted by Portland Maine Permaculture, a meetup group organized by the nonprofit organization Resilience Hub. Members are dedicated to regenerating land, growing healthy food and building strong community relationships.

Projects for the day included mulching medicinal garden beds, construction around a spring pond for amphibian habitat, making compost bins, building native bee houses and building a grape arbor to serve as an accent to the garden.

Miller envisions Sanctuary Healing Gardens as a community space where people can learn about herbal medicine, deepen their spiritual connection to the land, share knowledge and connect with one another.

“We co-evolved with the plants and they are part of the land to help us be well,” said Miller, who owns the property. “I teach people the basic uses of plants; how you use it, what it helps us in healing, how it grows, how to preserve it for medicine …”

Miller, who grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania, moved to Maine over nine years ago to find culture and community in city life. Her love for botanical therapy led her to teach at the University of Southern Maine for several years, but her desire to be surrounded by nature led her to farming once again.

“The trend for many of us is to move away from where we were born and raised to seek opportunity elsewhere, but we lose that deep connection,” she said. “You build a different relationship with a space when you stay there long term. Most of us never have that.”

Permablitz coordinator Benjamin White said in today’s society of renters, it’s important people have access to land cultivation opportunities. Miller understands the importance of this access, he said, which made her a perfect candidate for the project.

Permablitz coordinator Benjamin White digs in at the gardening event held at 277 Broadturn Road. Krysteana Scribner / The Forecaster

“Being connected to the land and growing things is so important,” he said. “Our bodies survive on what comes from the earth, so when we understand where that comes from, we tend to be more respectful of our environment and make better choices.”

He said the materials used for the project include free lawn clippings, wood chips from tree services, garden leaves, old coffee grounds and cardboard that would otherwise be thrown away.

Miller was one of five selected among 20 applicants to have a Permablitz hosted at their home. According to Resilience Hub program director Kate Wallace, the committee looks for applicant criteria that suggest the applicant has been active in their community.
“We try to select people who want to give back in some way, and Cathleen Miller is community-oriented and does just that,” Wallace said. “It’s so much about community and building connections between people outside of the monetary capitalist system — it’s neighbors helping neighbors.”

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