Lots to gardens

Final Report for CNE07-030

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Federal Funds: $9,500.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $38,446.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Kirsten Walter
Lots to Gardens
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Project Information


The project goal of Lots to Gardens is to develop diverse and culturally-appropriate sources for fresh food, support persons vulnerable to food insecurity in building their nutrition knowledge, and expand leadership development and training opportunities for youth and adults to become leaders in food system work in Lewiston, Maine.

Key components:
1. Expanding access to fresh food by supporting adults and seniors of limited income in growing their own food in community garden plots located in low-income neighborhoods of Lewiston.
2. Strengthening affordable access to local, fresh produce through neighborhood veggie stands, community meals and cooking demonstrations and “tastings” at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market.
3. Improving the nutrition knowledge-base of children, youth and adults of low-income through cooking and nutrition education programs connected to the gardens.
4. Expanding leadership and training opportunities for teenage youth through the Summer Youth Gardeners program and eight-month Youth Internship program.
5. Improving civic engagement for local teens with service opportunities through the Youth Volunteers Program.

Project Objectives:
  • Support sixty limited-income adults and seniors to grow food for themselves in community garden plots.

    Manage two weekly vegetable stands offering local organic produce grown by neighborhood youth and children. These stands are located in public housing communities for families and senior citizens.

    Hold regular community meals to provide opportunities for children and adults to eat more fresh vegetables and learn how to prepare simple, healthy meals.

    Manage a stand at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market to provide nutrition education activities, recipes and cooking demonstrations. Increase the use of EBT (food stamps) and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons through outreach and improved signage and payment methods.

    Strengthen relationships between local growers and consumers by building relationships with local restaurants and a pilot gleaning project.

    Improve nutrition knowledge-base of youth and adults of low-income through cooking programs connected to the gardens.

    Expand leadership development and training opportunities for youth through intensive job training program (Summer Youth Gardeners) and volunteer projects in the gardens.

    Train and employ community members as Resident Garden Coordinators to teach their neighbors how to grow food for themselves.


Not a research project. Please refer to summary.


Materials and methods:

The project was built upon Lots to Gardens’ nearly eight years experience involving youth and adults in sustainable agriculture and food system work in Lewiston.

Our design has three main components: (1) Strengthen existing programs to impact a greater number of youth and adults who need access to good food and nutrition knowledge; (2) Involve participants in planning and leadership, including fostering cross-generational relationships and peer mentoring methods; and (3) Connect people of limited income to local agriculture through direct marketing and education programs that build a committed customer base.

Our approach emphasizes community involvement in planning and we intentionally support youth and adults as local leaders. We actively seek out feedback from participants for program design and improvements.

Affordable food access program methods and activities
Regular meetings, trainings and gardening times were held at each community garden, supported by staff and Resident Garden Coordinators. Gardeners received support in planning their garden, preparing the soil and planting, learning how to care for their gardens and harvesting advice. Adult gardeners were joined by the teenage Summer Youth Gardeners during the height of the summer, gardening side-by-side.

Additional garden plots were created and offered downtown at the Franklin Pasture Garden. This garden had a youth growing space as well as individual plots, again providing opportunities for building inter-generational relationships. We still need to finish building a fence around the garden to protect it from deer and wayward bicycles, and are working through a slow process with the City to arrange permanent water access (we currently fill barrels for gardeners to have water access).

In addition to the weekly veggie stand, we held a weekly “snack-making” time with Summer Youth Gardeners and senior residents at Meadowview Park (a public housing complex for independent seniors of low-income). The snack-making sessions provided a fun, social time for seniors to interact with energetic teenagers and for them all to share recipes and stories, while also preparing and eating a healthy snack using seasonal garden produce. The snack also served as an attraction at the veggie stand, which was consistently a popular source for affordable garden-fresh veggies.

Community meals at were prepared weekly by children living at Hillview Apartments (a public housing community for families) and participating in our children’s gardening and cooking program. Children harvested the food they grew in the garden and then worked with adults and teens to prepare free meals open to the community. An average of 42 children attended the meals, and attendance at the preparation sessions filled the kitchen.

Efforts to increase EBT (Food Stamps) and WIC participation were made through outreach (including an additional market day next door to the WIC office in Auburn), purchasing a wireless EBT, and offering promotional activities and discounts. We didn’t track EBT sales for the whole market, but will plan to do so in 2008.

We made major expansions to our cooking and nutrition education programs that proved to be very successful. In partnership with the Lewiston Public Library, we held a weekly kids cooking club as well as offered cooking classes as part of our gardening programs at Hillview. We also taught monthly cooking and nutrition classes to a local Head Start class and engaged teens in cooking through the Summer Youth Gardeners program and a Teen Cooking Club. Adults participated in a monthly cooking club as well as classes offered in partnership with Lewiston Adult Education.

Our efforts to strengthen relationships with local growers were more limited than we originally planned (see Challenges for details).

Youth program methods and activities

We recruited and hired ten participants for Summer Youth Gardeners program. Orientation was led by Youth Interns (alumni youth participants in leadership positions from March to November) at which the group established shared standards and expectations.

We set up individual mentoring for each youth and established goals for their experience. The youth received structured feedback from their staff mentor, had opportunities for self-reflection as well as weekly feedback from their peers through a process called “Tell it like it is time.”

Summer Youth Gardeners participated in weekly nutrition and cooking classes, gardening workshops and Life-skills Trainings to build developmental assets. They also participated in a six-week job training module with the Training Resource Center.

The Summer Youth Gardeners worked four days each week in community and youth gardens in their neighborhoods, with children, adults, other youth and senior citizens. They also led outreach and education activities and helped with food distribution through the veggie stands, Farmers’ Market and donations to the Food Pantry.

Additional area youth participated in volunteer projects in the gardens throughout the summer.
Some of these youth work alongside the Summer Youth Gardeners and learned from their peers.

Research results and discussion:
  • The cooking demonstrations at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market were very well received. We partnered with chefs and cooks from local restaurants to host the demonstrations using produce that was in season at the Market. It served as an attraction for new customers, highlighted the pleasures of eating fresh and seasonal, and allowed the restaurants to show off their talents.

    In August, we hosted an “Eat Local Festival” to highlight local food as part of a national Eat Local action week. The festival was organized by the Summer Youth Gardeners and held at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market. It included taste comparisons, activities for children and a parade through downtown Lewiston.

    Two resident garden coordinators, both returning gardeners, provided support and leadership for community gardeners at Hillview, a public housing community where we have four gardens. Nearly ninety percent of our gardeners at Hillveiw were Somali or Somali Bantu. As a result, we hired, Ayan, a past Summer Youth Gardener and resident of Hillview, to serve as a cultural liaison and use her gardening experience and leadership skills in the new position.

    We significantly expanded our cooking and nutrition education programs. The class design and delivery methods were tailored to all ages. We received a request to cater in the fall and began a pilot youth catering project highlighting local and healthy foods while providing jobs and training in the kitchen.

    Farmers’ Market – we partnered with New American Sustainable Agriculture Project to manage the market. The purchase of the wireless EBT machine that accepts credit/debit cards as well made it easier for customers to use EBT without any stigma or other barriers. NASAP partnered with the local WIC office to offer a mini-market with NASAP growers at a second site near WIC office to make it easier to outreach to WIC participants.

    We increased access to gardens for downtown through the Franklin Pasture Garden.

  • The leadership and life-skills training for youth in the Summer Youth Gardeners program included workshops for each of the seven themes included in the youth training. The themes were: Community Change, Hunger, Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture, Healthy Communication & Conflict Resolution, Leadership, Understanding Diversity Oppression and Respect, and Healthy Cooking. All of these themes were based upon rigorous learning goals that have were developed with input from our three Youth Interns.

    We offered an longer leadership-level program for alumni youth called Youth Interns. The Youth Interns led or co-led each training for their peers in the Summer Youth Garden program. Throughout the internship, we create structured opportunities for the youth to plan, prepare and practice their leadership skills with people of diverse ages and backgrounds. Through this practice, they build concrete experience as well as confidence in their leadership abilities.

    In addition to their local work, our three Youth Interns attended the youth-action Rooted in Community network’s national conference in Philadelphia in July. They learned from their peers, networked, led an interactive conflict resolution workshop and returned full of energy and new ideas for Lewiston’s gardens.

    Participation numbers:
    Ten Summer Youth Gardeners: 1,962.5 hours

    Three Youth Interns: 1,027.5 hours

    One hundred thirty-three youth program participants: 1,547 hours

    Three hundred sixteen youth volunteers: 1,342 hours


With regular turn-over in the families living in public housing and in the downtown neighborhoods, we faced difficulty identifying adult leaders and providing consistent support for them. The two returning Resident Garden Coordinators were essential to supporting community gardeners, but we need more positions.

We continue to face challenges communicating with our Somali and Somali Bantu gardeners because the informal nature of the gardens adds additional difficulties in using interpreters. We will need to identify leaders from the new immigrant community to help with communication and cultural brokering.

Our goals to establish relationships with restaurants and Farm Fresh Connection were not met as we initially planned. After further discussion with community gardeners and our advisory board, we established more defined principles to guide our food distribution priorities. As a result, we chose to focus more of our energy and food on direct access methods and connecting to people with limited access to fresh food. These include “grow your own,” direct access at veggies stands and farmers’ market, cooking classes and education programs, community meals, as well as emergency providers. Thus, distribution through restaurants was limited. We were still able to reach this goal in part through the cooking demonstrations at the Farmers’ Market.

We piloted one gleaning project with a local farmer. In the future, we would like to expand this if we can coordinate volunteers. We plan to bring community gardeners who want a larger harvest for preserving as well as donate to more to the food pantry.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Our outreach efforts included:
Presentations providing information about garden locations, gardening programs, youth programs, and cooking and nutrition classes. Presentations were made to youth-serving agencies, Lewiston Housing Authority, Healthy Androscoggin, local colleges and community groups.

Posters, flyers and monthly calendars of events were placed at strategic locations throughout the community as well as distributed through list serves and emails and in community bulletins in the local papers. We also supported significant outreach for the Farmers’ Market through flyers, email reminders and community bulletins. We also created a permanent outreach display at the Public Library.

Newsletters were distributed to our mailing list, electronically, and handed out at events. We also distributed maps showing each garden location with descriptions how the sites are used.

Website improvements were made, but were more limited than we planned – our website is a part of the larger Sisters of Charity Health System’s site and they are working on making system-wide changes. We plan to make additional changes in the winter of 08-09.

Newspaper articles, TV news coverage generate a minimum of ten (10) Letters to the Editor, some by our youth interns; and utilize our contacts in the community to get TV news coverage, both on the networks as well as the local cable outlet.

Feedback about our programs, gardens and classes was solicited through our Community Advisory Board.

Our new location at the Nutrition Center of Maine proved to be a major improvement in our accessibility – we are located downtown, within walking distance of many of our gardens and across the street from the Farmers’ Market. We are just a few blocks away from a Head Start school, B-Street Community Center, the Lewiston Public Library and Trinity Jubilee Center (a soup kitchen and resource center).
Recruiting for our youth programs went well – we used past methods, including reaching out to local youth-serving agencies, the public high schools, and mental-health providers. Past youth participants also helped by word of mouth. We moved the timeline for recruiting and hiring earlier so that youth that weren’t chosen would still have ample opportunity to find summer jobs.
We also presented at events, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Common Ground Fair and the Rooted in Community Conference. We also were chosen as partners for press conferences by the Maine Community Foundation (to launch a matching donation campaign) and Healthy Androscoggin (the county’s public health entity to announce the governor’s emerging public health infrastructure).

We worked on an exciting media project. Through the summer, we filmed footage for a short film about Lots to Gardens to be used to raise awareness about our work. We hope to finish it in spring of 2008, as well as hold a film showing as a fundraiser. We will use this to send to partners and funders as well as put it on our website and other sites such as you-tube and myspace.

Please refer to activities and outcomes for information about our education efforts.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
  • Youth participants completed over 3,000 hours of community service.

    Over 60 community and senior gardeners grew food for themselves in community gardeners.

    Over 110 free, healthy cooking classes were offered at four sites and attended by over 820 youth, adults, and seniors.

    Lots to Gardens’ youth interns led a healthy communication workshop at the national Rooted in
    Community conference in Philadelphia.

    Lots to Gardens’ youth went to Anaheim, California to help solidify Lewiston’s bid for the All-American City award.

    In the fall, students from the Lewiston Regional Technical Center built the structure for our new greenhouse, located at the Wood Street Garden.

    We held our first large fundraising event in November – a celebration of local foods and music in the Callahan Hall at the Lewiston Public Library. We sold out of tickets and more than 100 people came to fill up on tasty soups and listen to wonderful tunes, as a way to raise awareness about local foods and farms. With the partnership and support of many local farmers, we were able to host this harvest feast in November and demonstrate to others how to take advantage of our plentiful local harvests at all times of the year. We received very positive feedback about the evening and plan to make it an annual or bi-annual event.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

This year we completed our ninth season in the gardens. Our partner at Lewiston Housing Authority recently commented that there are many children growing up at Hillview Apartments who have only known the public housing community with the gardens as a part of the landscape and the cooking classes, harvest dinners and leadership programs as part of their after-school and summer routine. In this small but significant way, we have transformed the neighborhoods for hundreds of people who now experience fresh vegetables, vibrant gardens, and the Farmers’ Market as a norm. The shift in the City’s recognition of the value of our work was demonstrated this year as Lots to Gardens was named one of three highlighted programs for Lewiston’s All-America City designation from the National Civic League. One of our Summer Youth Gardeners, who has grown up in the gardens since he was eight, represented Lewiston in the final competition in California this June. The ways in which Bradley and the other Lots to Gardens youth have contributed to their neighborhoods are slowly changing the perception of youth from apathetic delinquents to partners in creating social change.

Future Recommendations

We recognize that we need to better understand community food needs and assets. As a result, we are partnering with local colleges to conduct a Community Food Assessment as a way to engage community members and partners in creating solutions. We are currently reaching out for funding for the project.

We need to continue to expand food access projects – greenhouse for extended growing season, expand cooking programs, and we will likely need more land to cultivate within the city. We would also like to be able to hire more youth

Like many other communities in Maine, distribution is a major challenge. We have been dreaming of creative solutions for marketing, storage and distribution of local foods such as group/bulk CSAs, winter shares through the Farmers Market, and expanded canning and preservation classes. There is still much work to be done!

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.