Auburn likes community garden plan

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AUBURN — Lewiston’s model of allowing community gardens downtown could be ready to take root in Auburn, councilors agreed.

Councilors told staff from St. Mary’s Nutrition Center they liked their proposal to create an Auburn version of the successful Lots to Garden program in one of three downtown parcels.

“We know that our model and way of thinking is not the only one and that Auburn will need something a little different,” said Sherri Blumenthal, coordinator for the Lewiston program. “We spent a lot of time talking to different community garden programs around the state; we researched them and looked at their budgets and how they did things.”

But councilors said there were hitches, specifically a formal City Council review of federal Community Development Block Grant program. Auburn’s program would depend on block grant spending.

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“You’ve done some great work for the council, some education and this is a great beginning,” Councilor Tizz Crowley said. “But I’m sort of embarrassed to have you here, because we’ve put the cart before the horse. We did not do what we should have done before you were invited.”

Lewiston’s Lots to Gardens program began in 1999, a partnership between the city and St. Mary’s Nutrition Center. It converted several vacant downtown lots owned by the city into community gardens tended by neighbors and a cadre of downtown volunteers.

Individual parcels are divided up into plots and neighbors and volunteers are able to plant their own gardens there, growing vegetables for their own use.

Blumenthal said the program works by providing good food, but also turning a vacant lot into something that helps build community.

“They have a number benefits, for the individual level, expanding to the community and to the town or citywide,” she said.

Auburn’s similar program could begin at 61 Webster St., converting that parcel into a community garden for at least the next 10 years.

In all, developing the site would cost $26,000. That includes lead tests for the soil, site grading, building a fence, signs, raised beds, plants, compost bins and tools. Labor building and maintaining the garden would be provided by the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and by volunteers.

A $5,000 grant from Harvard Pilgrim would help pay for part of the site preparation work, as would a $1,000 grant from the National Park Service. The rest would come from the city’s federal allocation from the Community Development Block Grant program.

In addition, Nutrition Center Director Kirstin Walter said the program has picked out four additional sites around the city that could be community gardens — 325 Turner St., 178 Main St., 88 Newbury St. and Walton School in New Auburn.

Councilors will take up the matter again at a workshop meeting in two weeks, giving Walter and Blumenthal time to investigate parcels in New Auburn and around the Academy Street neighborhood. They agreed to review overall block grant spending in September.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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