Gleaners Dalton Dear, left, and Paul D’Alessandro with tomato seedlings collected from Six River Farms in Bowdoinham that were distributed to those in need. Courtesy / Merrymeeting Gleaners

BRUNSWICK — Local farmers and food distribution nonprofits have put a new twist on the practice of distributing produce to the needy, adding seedlings to give people a chance to grow their own food.

“The farmers in this area are an amazing group of people,” said Jamison Pacheco, programs director at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, one of the nonprofits helping to distribute 2,000 seedlings from area farms that include Whatley Farm in Topsham, Six River Farm in Bowdoinham, Milkweed Farm in Brunswick and Goranson farm in Dresden.

It all began with Whatley Farm co-owner Ben Whatley, according to Kelly Davis, gleaning coordinator for Merrymeeting Gleaners. The local nonprofit helps manage the annual harvest and distribution of surplus produce from area farms, known as gleaning. On June 10, Whatley suggested adding surplus seedlings to the donations from his farm this year as well.

“Seedlings aren’t really something we’ve gleaned before, but (Whatley) reached out to us, asking if we could use the seedlings and I was like, ‘OK, let’s try it,”’ Davis said.

Whatley, in a statement from the land trust, said it was a different concept for his farm, too.

“We hadn’t done much seedling donation before this year,” he said. “It was always just excess produce going through … when we’ve had the gleaners out to glean the crops on the fields.”

Davis said she and the land trust began calling other local farms, and found all of them were interested in participating. Before long, the gleaners and the land trust had acquired 2,000 seedlings for all manner of common produce items, from tomatoes to peppers to zucchini to corn, along with strawberry and mint plants.

Pacheco said the land trust also planted seedlings over the summer in its Common Good Garden in Brunswick, a garden maintained by 20 volunteers. As of Sept. 15, the seedlings have yielded nearly 900 pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash, and Pacheco said volunteers aren’t even finished harvesting yet.

“We grew some crops we don’t normally grow,” she said.

Pacheco said the produce will go to local food banks. Davis said other seedlings have been distributed to 25 organizations, including food pantries and a local preschool.

“We donated (the seedlings) to about 25 organizations,” Davis said. “Some of them used them to plant their own gardens at their offices or facilities, and then they’ll provide that food to their clients. But more often, the organizations were redistributing the seedlings directly to their clients to plant in their own gardens, which was really exciting to see.”

Seedlings packed up for distribution from Whatley Farm in Topsham. Courtesy / Merrymeeting Gleaners

Kim Gates, executive director of the Bath Area Food Bank, said her bank received 25 strawberry seedlings, complete with instructions and a little fertilizer.

Gates said receiving donated fresh produce for distribution is always welcome, but seedlings are just as valuable, as recipients will be able to use them to grow their own produce, encouraging a little more food independence.

“They were very excited to get them,” Gates said.

Davis said she believed that people who have received donated produce are taking more of an interest in where their food comes from, and called the use of seedlings “a nice next step” in the process.

Pacheco credited collaboration between local nonprofits and farmers with the project’s success.

“We are truly fortunate to have so many amazing farms, businesses and community members who want to support one another,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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