Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, Maine

The Cumberland County SWCD’s new urban agriculture program has been branded as the “Cumberland County Urban Conservation Agriculture Network” or CC-UCAN. CC-UCAN is a “network” in the sense that the conservation district works to build partnerships and harmonize the goals of otherwise disconnected people and organizations. While building the program, the district gained significant capacity to design and build food forests, leverage partners to improve community garden sites, communicate best practices to low or non-English-speaking New American Groups, and use a new curriculum to reach underserved youth.

Mulching workshop in progress at Boyd St. Community Garden in Portland.

The district commissioned a survey to assess the urban agriculture needs in the county. The results indicated interest in adding food forests and community garden space throughout the county. Perhaps the most significant finding is that, among people who currently garden either at home or at a community bed, few have done any kind of soil test for nutrients or lead. And a significant number of respondents, more than 70%, said they have no knowledge of which plants are best to grow in soil that might contain lead. A GIS data table with locations of community garden spaces and community agriculture “knowledge hubs” was created and juxtaposed with a data layer showing median income from the U.S. Census.

Curricula was produced that includes four lessons designed for the New American community and market gardeners growing in the region. Three workshops were held using the lesson plans to support New American growers in the region.The district provided technical assistance to recommend erosion and sedimentation control improvements at six community agriculture sites in Portland, and supported food forest improvements and new installations at four sites in Portland by contributing technical assistance, supplies, organizational leadership and labor.

A four-part curriculum with supporting materials was developed to provide agriculture and food system education to incarcerated youth. Each lesson is approximately 90 minutes, or could be broken up to sub-sections with breaks. The total classroom time is six hours. The district taught a total of 10 classes at the Long Creek Youth Development Center, a secure Maine State Department of Corrections facility in South Portland, reaching 18 female and 24 male residents. A local videographer produced a video highlighting vocational opportunities in local agriculture that was designed to appeal to underserved youth. The video has been shared on social media and by partners.

Work day at Mt. Joy Orchard in Portland; additional seedlings/mulch were added at the site.

Sustainability

The district developed quality CC-UCAN-branded lesson plans that are easily delivered within the community through contacts and connections made during this project. The focus areas for future CC-UCAN project work have been broken down into three areas:

  • Vocational programming at the Long Creek Youth Development Center. There is an urgent need for this kind of programming, and no other organization is currently able or planning to offer the service. The SWCD will leverage the security clearance/contacts gained to continue.
  • Youth service-learning work in the community. This youth-centered programming will be “rolled into” the district’s existing CONNECT Program, which focuses on delivering healthy soil and clean water messages to school-aged children within the region. Field work portions of service-learning will include installation of edible plantings and BMPs. This will be accomplished through existing partnerships with schools, municipalities, landowners and private organizations.
  • Additional CC-UCAN offerings. New resources were developed that can be replicated in the future including:
    • “A food forest for every neighborhood” that uses food forest plantings to build community organizations as a positive place-making catalyst for urban neighborhoods which do not have food forests and may not currently have active neighborhood associations.
    • “Edible Maine Streets” that focuses on place-making and community-involvement principles around conservation education in rural villages and suburban communities. Edible installations, featuring rare species such as stone fruit cultivars with historical connections to regions or towns and in need of living preservation can be installed in town commons areas.

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