AUBURN — Local officials, supporters and community members recently joined the Auburn Community Garden Initiative at 61 Webster St. to celebrate Auburn’s first community garden.

The Webster Street Community Garden will serve as a place to grow and access good food, gather and learn together, and build friendships for 24 families and individuals from around the neighborhood and the city.

Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte praised the collaborative effort and the various ways gardens can serve the people of Auburn.

“Gardens are a safe and beautiful gathering space for neighbors and can help families put a little more healthy food on the table, especially during that critical window when kids are home for the summer — a particularly challenging time for those struggling with food insecurity,” said LaBonte.

The ACGI is a collaborative effort between the city of Auburn, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Androscoggin Land Trust and neighbors. 

Helping celebrate was Reine Mynahan, Auburn’s community development director.

“I knew that St. Mary’s Nutrition Center’s Lots to Gardens program brought neighbors together in gardens in Lewiston with great success. I thought community gardens would be a welcomed addition to create the same cohesion in Auburn’s downtown neighborhoods. Gardens are a way to put vacant lots to good use and create neighborhood pride,” Mynahan said.

Paula Newcomb, community planning and development representative for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also attended the celebration.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation awarded a $5,000 grant to the Initiative last summer as part of its Healthy Food Fund. In addition, the foundation is the founding funder of the Good Food Bus, one of a fleet of five mobile markets in the region it supports to help increase healthy and affordable fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods in need. The Good Food Bus, coordinated by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and Portland-based Cultivating Community, was on-site at the Garden kick-off event to promote its stops in Lewiston and Auburn this summer.

Each of the 24 participating households has access to a 4- by 10-foot raised garden bed to cultivate along with tools, seeds and seedlings. They also receive support from Auburn Community Garden Coordinator Charis Heisey, who will hold regular garden hours for gardeners to receive advice and assistance throughout the summer.

Heisey spoke about her experience both as an eager community gardener and as coordinator of the new Webster Street Garden. She has worked for the past several months signing up gardeners, leading volunteer groups to help prepare the space, and helping community members start to sow their garden plots.

“I spent the winter worrying about where I would be able to garden because growing food is really important to my health,” Heisey said. “I am grateful every day to be able to work on this garden with an amazing group of gardeners and I’m really excited to see the future of this and more gardens in our community.”

Community gardener Connie Bell talked about how she has enjoyed seeing life start to grow in her plot in the garden and having the opportunity to meet new people in her neighborhood.

Julie Isbill, member of the ACGI and project manager for the National Park Service River, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, said ACGI hopes this garden will be the first of three built across the city in the next five years to beautify the neighborhood, serve as a vital food access point and as a community gathering space for residents.

FMI: [email protected]

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