Those carpentry and tromping sounds of people in the surrounding woods coming from the Mission Downeast campus are precursors to a new Downeast Family Garden Project, officially kicking off Sunday, May 1st. Eight raised bed are now installed for families to use.
The project is a Washington County collaborative venture involving Maine Seacoast Mission, Women for Healthy Rural Living (WHRL), and the Community Collaborative Initiative. Megan Smith, the Mission’s Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator, will oversee the project situated at the Mission Downeast Campus in Cherryfield.
WHRL’s project goal is to help Washington County families grow their own vegetables in raised beds, which are basically planters. The eight wood raised beds for this project each measure 8’x3.’ On April 15th, said Megan Smith, she cut the lumber and Mission President John Zavodny “worked really hard putting the raised beds together. He was here on weekends, too,” said Megan.
“Last Friday, April 22nd, we placed the boxes and do something called hugelkultur. We have people going into the woods, finding rotting logs to place in the raised beds, then covering the logs with topsoil. The logs send nutrients into the soil which helps the plants,” said Megan.
The WHRL members will use two of the raised beds for demonstrating how to have a successful garden. On their website, WHRL says of the remaining raised beds, “Six families can sign up for raised beds. If they sign up, they agree:
to participate in several work days throughout the season;
to check-in on their raised bed regularly, and
to assist with watering and weeding.
In return, they will receive seeds & seedlings for their raised beds, in-person guidance, a support network of family gardeners, and all the vegetables their garden produces.” To learn more about, or to sign up for the Downeast Family Garden Project, visit WHRL’s website.
NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – Two weeks into the New Year, Island Health Director Sharon Daley, RN noticed on Facebook a call for help from Terry Staples at Swan’s Island Bread of Life Food Pantry. While no one was on duty, the pantry freezer quit. “The end result,” wrote Mr. Staples, “was the loss of several hundred pounds of meat.” It will take time to replace the freezer, said Terry. Meanwhile, “if you are…grocery shopping and…could pickup a couple extra meats for us it would be a great help…,” he said.
Sharon asked Mission President John Zavodny and Downeast Director Mel Adams if the Mission could help the Swan’s Island food pantry. The answer was: Yes.
Mission Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator Megan Smith partnered with Downeast Campus Facilities Manager Scott Shaw. They identified ten frozen turkeys and 210 pounds of additional frozen meats which Scott Shaw delivered 45-miles from Cherryfield to Northeast Harbor.
Meanwhile, Terry Staples told Sharon Daley the mail boat to Swan’s Island from Bass Harbor would transport the meat one hour over the water if the Mission could get the meat to the ferry by 11:00 am Monday, January 24.
On the 24th, Sharon Daley and Mel Adams received an email from Megan Smith. She said, “The frozen meat and turkeys are on the ferry heading to Swans Island…. I am so glad that we could help Terry and the Swans Island pantry.”
CHERRYFIELD, ME – Imagine not having steady access to food in order to live a healthy, active life. That’s what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “food insecurity.” According to the nation’s “largest hunger relief organization,” Feeding America, 12.4% of Maine’s population is food insecure. In Washington County, home to the Mission’s food pantry, the reported 5,200 food insecure people constitute 16.5% of the county population.
In Spring 2020, Covid regulations forced an almost complete reinvention of how the Mission food pantry functioned. Patrons placed their orders by phone, driving to the pantry where Mission staff and volunteers loaded the pre-boxed orders into car trunks and truck beds. Staff and volunteers home delivered pantry orders to patrons living too far away, or who didn’t feel safe leaving their homes.
At that time the Mission began new or expanded partnerships. with area nonprofits such as Mano en Mano. Working with a $10,000 grant from Good Shepherd Food Bank, the food center helped distribute culturally-specific food for local families and migrant workers. Together, Mano en Mano, Vazquez Mexican Takeout Restaurant, and Downeast Community Partners used the Mission food pantry to distribute 165 boxes of food to 347 people.
As the food pantry grew in new directions, adjusting for ever-changing Covid-19 regulations, the Mission started making plans to grow food security services. Today, Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator Megan Smith and Family and Community Resource Coordinator Stephanie Moores, are overseeing the creation of the Mission Food Center.
For example, after an interior/exterior building makeover this year, the pantry is running more like a grocery store.
“People just love that they get to come in, walk around, pick the items they want,” explains Megan. “The feedback has been tremendous. Pantry staff get to talk to have conversations with these people. It gives patrons more dignity and a place to feel comfortable.”
In addition, Megan says, “We don’t have limits on how many times people can come in, or on what they can take. Patrons can pick their own meat, produce, and shelf staples.”
That policy, says Megan, works toward the Mission’s goal for the food center as “a place for people to get food, and a place where people feel welcome.” With a welcoming “grocery store” atmosphere, Megan went on, “we can talk with shoppers.”
That’s important particularly when food insecurity is not the only issue a patron is trying to resolve. “It might not just be food insecurities patrons are wrestling with. It might be heating oil or some other issue,” reminds Megan. “And if these things come up we can help them. They don’t have to go someplace else to find another resource. It’s all at this one place,” she says.
With Washington County’s huge meal gap in mind, Megan says, “There’s always opportunity to let more people know about the resource. We’d love to grow, to be a mobile food pantry for communities without them. I hope we can show other pantries in the area how to become low-barrier pantries,” she says.
The food pantry is blessed with its long-term food supply partnerships with Good Shepherd Food Bank, Walmart (Ellsworth), Shaw’s (Ellsworth), Bayside Shop ‘n Save (Milbridge), and Folklore Farm (Cherryfield).
Megan agrees, but says that goodwill extends to the community. “People calling us and asking, ‘What do you need at the pantry that you don’t have? Especially for items people don’t think about. Like coffee and tea. They’re a huge part of people’s lives. We can’t always buy those and they’re not always donated,” she says.
In sum, says Megan, “The whole community is a huge partner.” And that bodes very well for the food pantry’s prospects for year 2022. To learn more or become involved, visit our Food Security Program.
NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME — Honoring someone is recognizing their value to the world and to us. This holiday season the Mission is offering supporters a heartfelt way to honor people in their lives.
From now until Christmas, for a small donation the names of people honored will be handwritten on Mission holiday ornaments, and displayed on the Colket Center Christmas tree in Northeast Harbor.
These photos show the Mission ornament honoring Director of Service Programs and Scholarship Coordinator Wendy Harrington.
Wendy joined the Mission in 2002. She and her husband, Charlie, helped create the EdGE Program. Wendy was also instrumental in the Mission food security programs, housing rehabilitation, and community events at the Mission Community Center.
In the Mission’s May 2021 eNewsletter, Wendy said, “My work was, and is, centered on families and community and the belief that children thrive when they have the support of the people around them.”
It is an honor to both know and work with Wendy Harrington.
Who in your life would you like to honor? Click here.
CHERRYFIELD, ME — This is a photo of “welcome veggies” from the Mission food pantry. The sender, who asks to remain unidentified, said, “You can be assured these are tasty and healthy. It’s fun to try new veggies.”
What vegetables are we looking at in this photo? How were they prepared for eating?
The chef said the veggie on the “left is roasted celery root chips and on the right are jicama fries.” Jicama is a root vegetable originally from Mexico. As with celery root, jicama is similar to turnip, and often used as a potato substitute.
The veggies pictured were “oven roasted at 425 degrees for 35 minutes or more.” The chef continued, “I prep the veggies by peeling and slicing. Toss into a dry rub mixture of cornstarch, corn meal, dry seasonings – or whatever spices you like. Tajin chili spice is my ‘go to.’
“Place prepped veggies on an olive oiled sheet pan, rotate and stir halfway thru cooking. You are looking for golden edges. The jicama tends to stay firm, yet great for dipping. A welcome change from potato,” said the chef.
Great to know. And thank you for sharing.
Learn more about the Mission food pantry and other food related services and programs.
CHERRYFIELD, ME — In July 2021 we changed the Mission Family Food Center into a place where our patrons could choose their foods. Our choice pantry offers patrons dignity and cuts down on food wasted. The pantry now has the feel and look of a grocery store complete with signs to showcase available foods.
The feedback is all positive. People tell us, “This is wonderful.” “Thank you for doing this, it is amazing.” “I feel better about coming to the food pantry.” “I don’t have to feel bad about throwing food away because now I can get only what I am going to use.” “Thank you for having an organic section.”
Mission Food Security and Sustainability Programs Coordinator Megan Smith said, “I look forward to coming to work each day knowing this change has made a huge difference in how our patrons view coming to the food pantry. Also, it gives me an opportunity to engage with patrons and get to know them better.”