Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick is the home of Growing to Give, a nonprofit food bank initiative where fresh produce is grown for people in need. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Volunteers at Growing to Give at Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick harvest, pack and donate hundreds of pounds of fresh, organic produce to send to local food banks each week, but Farm Manager Theda Lyden worries it’s still not enough. 

Once the coronavirus pandemic hit and thousands of Mainers lost their jobs, Lynden and the others at the nonprofit farm immediately felt an urgency to get more food into the system. 

Since March, the weekly haul has been steadily increasing as the growing season has progressed, Lyden said. Last week, 735 pounds of vegetables were harvested and distributed across Cumberland, Androscoggin and Sagadahoc counties. It’s starting to feel like they’re making a difference, she said. 

The farm’s mission is simple and two-pronged — to help reduce food security by donating the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor to area food banks, and to do so using climate-friendly, eco-conscious farming techniques. With help from the Merrymeeting Gleaners, the Cumberland County Food Initiative and the Androscoggin Gleaners, vegetables are harvested and distributed three times a week to local food access programs.

Theda Lyden, Scatter Good Farm manager, discusses the increased urgency to distribute food in the wake of the pandemic. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Growing to Give is poised to send out more than 20,000 pounds of food this year, up from 17,000 and 15,000 in the past two years, and is closing in on an expansion project that, once completed, is expected to increase production by another 35-50%, John Newlin, co-owner said. 

This increase will be coming at just the right time. 

Feeding America estimates that one in eight Mainers is food insecure and, according to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, hunger in Maine is projected to rise by as much as 40% statewide in 2020. 

Hannah Chatalbash, deputy director of Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, said the food bank and soup kitchen have not seen a significant month-to-month increase yet, though numbers are trending upward from this time last year. 

From March through June of this year there were 3,325 visits to the food bank and 17,357 meals served at the soup kitchen, compared to 3,214 visits and 13,541 meals over the same period of time last year. 

Garlic is laid out to dry after it is harvested in Brunswick. Hannah LaClaire / The Times record

Officials are bracing themselves for what may be coming in the next few months, Chatalbash said, with unemployment benefits ending and no new stimulus plan revealed. Plus, there is usually an uptick between October and January, as heating costs rise. 

The future is very up in the air, Chatalbash said, but they are trying to be prepared.

To help boost both food security and food sovereignty, some farmers with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust have been working to distribute seedlings across the Midcoast instead. 

According to a press release from the land trust, the project is already “hugely successful” with more than 2,000 seedlings going out to new homes. 

“In time, these seedlings will mature in various gardens around the region and yield significantly more food per unit than redistributing already grown vegetables,” land trust officials said, estimating that those 2,000 plants could produce close to eight tons of food by the end of the year. 

Cucumber blossoms line a tent at Scatter Good Farm in Brunswick. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

Growing to Give also dabbled with seedling sales this year, with a pop-sale to help bring in extra revenue in the face of declining donations and fundraising due to the pandemic. Newlin estimated farm lost out on nearly $30,000 expected from fundraising events, more than 60% of the annual operating budget.

A pick-your-own-bouquet with a donation event is also in the works, as is a virtual art auction scheduled for Aug. 28. 

Lyden said the seedling pop up sale was successful, and she attributes that in some ways to an increase in “victory gardens,” or home gardens popularized after the first and second world wars. 

The gardens obviously are a way to put more food on the table, but they also provide a “connection to the earth,” she said. “It’s a scary world, but it  helps bring tranquility.”

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