Tory Ryden of Naples tends to the Lake Region Kids’ Garden at Kent’s Landing last summer with some young gardeners. She plans to start work on the new season’s beds next month. Contributed / Tory Ryden

The idea for a just-for-kids community garden came to Naples resident Tory Ryden while she was delivering meals for CrossWalk Community Outreach last spring.

“What I started seeing was a real dichotomy in this community,” said the former local TV news reporter and anchor.

“There are people who come here with all the money in the world,” but not too far off the picturesque shores of Sebago Lake, “there is dire poverty,” she said.

Naples Selectman Caleb Humphrey, left, and Peter and Paul Vigna build garden beds with materials donated from Hancock Lumber last summer. Contributed / Tory Ryden

A kids’ garden was Ryden’s answer to her question, “What can we do to help give some hope here, particularly during COVID?”

After a successful first year of children growing and taking home tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and more, Lake Region Kids’ Garden in Naples is gearing up for its second season. In addition to the 11 raised garden beds constructed last summer, Ryden is hoping to build a bean pole teepee and plant a “medicine wheel,” a type of herb garden traditional in Native American communities.

Ryden said she anticipates starting work next month, preparing the garden beds and “cooking up” the compost.

The garden started to come together last June when Ryden got the “thumbs up” from Naples Town Manager John Hawley and the Selectboard.

The town offered Ryden a sunny spot at Kent’s Landing for the garden and a number of local business donated materials, from wood and water hoses, to seedlings and manure.

A crew of about a dozen friends and neighbors volunteered to build the garden.

An avid gardener, Ryden said that accessibility to the garden was key so that kids could come by any time they wanted to tend to their crops.

“The whole idea was to get kids involved, showing them what they can do and what they can do for themselves,” she said.

“Ultimately, maybe they grow up and they become a chef, or they become farmers or they have their own backyard gardens.”

Ryden coordinated with Beth Latsey of Casco Parks and Recreation and Kim Litchfield of Casco/Naples Before and After Care Center to get the word out.

About 30 kids ranging from first- to ninth graders participated last summer. And with a jump start on the summer season, Litchfield will help kids grow their own seedlings this year to plant around Memorial Day.

“I had the same group of kids who always wanted to go over and get things from the garden,” Litchfield said.

“The kids are actually excited about it starting again this summer.”

Twins Kaiden and Keegan Landry, 7, came by at least once a week last summer to check on their veggies.

“I liked watching everything grow,” said Keegan. He’s looking forward to watering his plants this summer, and his brother said he can’t wait to wear his work gloves.

The first graders were always “very enthusiastic about watering and then ‘shopping’ for veggies,” Ryden said.

She’d often bring by food she cooked with the fresh picks.

“It’s just kind of a neat thing to see kids kind of light up and say, wow, we did that,” she said. “They got very excited to know that they were responsible for what was really on their plate.”

From left, Keegan Landry, Kaiden Landry, Marley Poitras, Averey Klein, Justis Klein, Connor Cricones, Ainsley Faria, Steven Dobson and Sofia Dobson were avid gardeners last summer. Contributed / Tory Ryden

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