Kathy Rives, left, and Carol Gillespie of Merrymeeting Gleaners harvest salad turnips at Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick Sept. 25. Through the Growing to Give program, those and thousands of pounds of other vegetables are donated to those in need. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — In gifting half a ton of organic vegetables to 15 area food access organizations earlier this month, Growing to Give surpassed the 30,000-pound mark in total donations since 2017.

The achievement meets a goal John Newlin and wife Patty Carton had when they moved to Scatter Good Farm in 2002.

“They wanted to do something with their property other than it looking just pretty,” said Theda Lyden, an organic market gardener and retired executive chef who founded Growing to Give with them two years ago.

Theda Lyden, who co-founded Growing to Give in 2017, packs produce to send to area food pantries. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Wanting at first to create a farm-based product, the trio aimed to launch a line of organic sauces, for which Lyden grew too many peppers. When Rebecca McConnaughey, one of the farm’s lead gleaners, swung by to bring the surplus to a food bank, the trio was inspired to switch its focus to supplying fresh produce to such organizations in Androscoggin, Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties.

“We all loved the idea,” Lyden said.

Growing to Give, a nonprofit organization, partners with the Merrymeeting Gleaners and Androscoggin Gleaners to harvest the vegetables grown across a 1-acre cultivation area off East Coxon Road. The produce is distributed thrice weekly to food access programs in Bath, Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell and Lisbon, including the Bath Area Food Pantry and Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

Growing to Give looks to expand its production area next year by 35% and provide vegetables to Topsham and Durham. The organization also plans to launch an educational outreach initiative for children.

“We would love to keep expanding, but it’s all based on volunteers” who can glean and deliver the produce, said Lyden, adding that aside from her and McConnaughey, everyone working on the farm is doing so as a labor of love.

“It’s all about getting the word out of what we’re doing, and getting people interested,” she said. “I always tell people, once we get them here we’ve got them hooked because it’s so beautiful here.”

Growing to Give has about 30 consistent volunteers. Those who want to lend a hand can reach Carton, the operation’s volunteer coordinator, at 837-4670 or [email protected]. More information is available at growingtogive.farm.

The farm grows 25 vegetables and 65 varieties. Much attention is focused on greens, since the pantries and recipients don’t get much of them, Lyden said.

Scatter Good Farm aims to increase production in the “shoulder seasons” – late fall and early spring. Any cover placed on a vegetable adds 10 degrees, so using a greenhouse tunnel and row cover together can add 20 degrees, raising the temperature surrounding a crop on a 32-degree day to 52 degrees, Lyden said.

“That has been a big need, because this time of year is harvest season, so the pantries are just loaded with stuff,” she said. “But it’s those other shoulder seasons where there’s … very little.”

Growing to Give is based at Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Food insecurity numbers

One in eight Mainers struggle with hunger, including one in five children, according to feedingamerica.org. Nearly 34 percent of households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits have children, the website states.

There are nearly 24,000 people in Cumberland County receiving SNAP benefits, along with nearly 20,000 in Androscoggin County and about 3,000 in Sagadahoc County, according to Ian Miller, senior food supplement program manager with the Department of Health & Human Services’ Office for Family Independence.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program serves nearly 2,800 in Cumberland County, nearly 2,200 in Androscoggin, and more than 300 in Sagadahoc.

The food pantry at Freeport Community Services serves between 420-450 people a month, numbers that have remained consistent the past few years, according to Community Services Coordinator Sarah Lundin.

The produce her organization receives weekly from Growing to Give is “always such a treat to folks accessing our food pantry because it is truly fresh,” she said Sept. 25. “Much of the fruits and veggies donated through other methods are on their very last of legs. To see how people light up at the sight of a fresh head of lettuce or delight at beautiful heirloom tomatoes is something our staff and volunteers are so fortunate to experience.”

Kimberly Gates, executive director of the Bath Area Food Pantry, praised Growing to Give vegetables as “incredibly clean, and my clients have made it very clear that those aren’t things that they would buy generally from the store, so to be able to get stuff like that for free has been phenomenal.”

The Bath pantry serves about 260 families, an increase of 62 percent from last year. The pantry’s new and larger location on Middle Street, and the increase in number of teenage homeless “couch surfers,” have contributed to that hike, Gates said.

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