Auburn wants fundraising to split costs on community garden

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AUBURN — The city could split the cost of a community vegetable garden, asking St. Mary’s Nutrition Center to raise up to $10,000 to pay for the program, councilors said Monday.

Earlier this month, councilors said they liked plans to create an Auburn version of the successful Lots to Garden program on a vacant downtown parcel, but Councilor Tizz Crowley said cost was her big concern.

According to Kirstin Walter, director of the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, the program would cost about $26,000 to get started. 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.

According to the city’s plan presented Monday, Auburn would pay about half the remaining costs, matching community fundraising.

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“The city’s proposal is beginning to address my needs,” Crowley said, “At this time, it has moved me closer.”

Lewiston’s Lots to Gardens program began in 1999, a partnership between the city of Lewiston 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 into plots. Volunteers are able to plant gardens there, growing vegetables for their own use. The plan would keep the garden on the lot for a minimum of five years.

Sherri Blumenthal, coordinator for the Lewiston program, said a vacant lot at 61 Webster St. is still the group’s favorite. It’s a sizable lot with room for several families to plant gardens but it’s close to neighbors. That has two benefits: cutting down on vandalism and encouraging residents to get out and see each other.

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

Councilors could vote on a version of the plan in September. Blumenthal said the group would like to see planting begin at the garden in the spring.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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