Written by Janice Gan, New Media Coordinator, Team Maine
August 1st, 2013
A garden in Belfast
Today is our fourth day in Belfast and 39th day on the road, but it’s still hard to believe that this will be our last full week in any city. We’ve been hearing enthusiastic reviews of this area ever since we entered Maine, so it’s a relief being able to say it has so far exceeded our expectations.
After a hot day of traveling on Monday, we were welcomed by the sea breeze, picturesque views, and a wonderful potluck at the Unitarian Universalist Church (our home for the week). We’ve been able to buy greens at the Belfast Co-op, get our bikes some well-deserved attention, and hike across Sears Island, the largest uninhabited island north of the Carolinas. Trail maintenance hardly feels like work when you’ve entered what seems like a set from Jurassic Park (sans dinosaurs), with ocean views to boot.
The warm reception we received upon arriving continued with an invitation to come along on a permaculture garden tour sponsored by the Belfast Area Transition Initiative, starting just a few blocks from the church. A group of twenty-some gardeners, two children, and one very adorable dog greeted us when we rode up at 8 o’clock this morning – almost half of the group had brought their bikes, and the air buzzed with the warm chatter of friends. It felt less like a formal tour than a gathering of people who shared an enthusiasm for fresh food and sustainability.
First stop: Sasha Kutsy’s garden
The first garden we visited seemed to be a microcosm unto itself – edible and flowering plants rubbed shoulders with each other in raised beds, and a moveable coop (“chicken tractor”) kept the grasses trimmed and soil enriched with manure. Companion plants attracted pollinators while keeping pests away from the vegetables; many plants were allowed to reseed or were worked back into the soil after they died. Every decision seemed to be made with an overarching goal in mind: creating a healthier and more self-sustaining garden that would grow with, rather than in spite of, its natural surroundings.
The three other gardens we visited followed a similar principle of treading lightly upon the earth. Even though we had only one hour per garden, I feel like I could write pages about the intricacies and delights of each one. We tasted “the best cucumbers in the world” (Boothby Blondes, saved from an old farm in Maine) fresh from the plot at Troy Howard Middle School; we visited a family that relied on their goats for weeding, fertilizer, cheeses, and general amusement; we wandered through a forest garden filled with native berries and shade-loving plants. At each turn, there was something new to be intrigued by.
One thing that struck us as the tour continued was the amazing focus on community – even though most of these gardens were created by a single household, each of the hosts expressed a genuine desire to share their bounty with as many of their neighbors as possible.
Very happy plants in the garden at Troy Howard Middle School
Sasha Kutsy, our first host, talked about adding an outdoor oven for community pizza nights and building a plank walkway to provide a shortcut to school through the marshy woods behind their house. The middle school program provides food for soup kitchens throughout summer and early fall, in addition to allowing dozens of kids to experience the rewards of eating vegetables they tended from start to finish. The Clemetson family garden is also the site of the neighborhood play area, and Maria Gail sells homemade arbors and offers massages in exchange for mulch. There is a tangible sense of pride in their work and community that I’ve rarely felt elsewhere.
I believe this sense of connection is crucial to any movement – it’s something that brings people together not only for a cause, but also because they care about each other and the land they live on. Though it’s only been around for five years, the Transition movement for sustainable living has already taken root in Belfast and hundreds of cities around the world, in large part due to their model of community training, interaction, and support.
I feel that Climate Summer is trying to do something similar on a smaller scale, although with more focus on breadth than depth – we’re building support by raising awareness, by speaking to as many people as possible, by connecting those people with each other through community events and partner organizations. Even though it’s hard knowing that our country is far from being on the same page about climate change, movements like the ones we’ve seen in Belfast give me some measure of hope. If we can help build the first steps toward such communities or strengthen existing ones, our efforts will have formed a small part of something vitally important.