Until this year, aspiring farmers at Bowdoin have trekked almost three miles down the road to work on the crops at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. Their walk will get shorter this spring, with the Bowdoin Organic Garden’s new plot of land right next to campus on Harpswell Road.
The College acquired the former Stevens Retirement Home property at 52 Harpswell Road last year, and has allotted the half-acre backyard and barn to the Bowdoin Organic Garden.
Farm Manager Sara Cawthon has overseen the process of converting the lot into usable farmland.
“Last August or September, we put in a cover crop to start improving the soil for growing this year,” said Cawthon. “It’s super skimpy. All of Brunswick is on really sandy soil.”
Because of the weak soil quality, light crops such as salad greens will be planted in the plot. The harvest will be served in the dining halls. Brunswick’s flat topography is ideal for farming, but the soil needs to be supplemented with nutrients and organic matter from compost and a cover crop.
While the Organic Garden has two dedicated staff members and is supported by the Dining Services, student volunteers do much of the work that goes into food production.
“Because this is such a visible spot, we hope to really increase our participation and things we can offer folks who can just walk over between classes,” said Cawthon.
Last academic year, the Organic Garden supplied $35,000 worth of produce to the dining halls and about $2,000 worth to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program. Its produce is comprised of dozens of different crops.
In addition to the new farming land, the property includes a historic barn that will be used as a small, versatile classroom space. The Organic Garden hopes to share the space with academic departments
“We’ve already had two classes use our property out on Pleasant Hill Road, and that was the first time classes have ever done actual projects from our garden,” Cawthon said. “I think that it will be so much easier for classes to walk over, whether it be biology, soil science, or outdoor education.”
Students have approached Cawthon about practical skills classes like hands-on cooking that could be hosted in the barn. Additionally, the nearby dorm could potentially serve as a gathering space for Organic Garden programming.
“The functional space is a good size,” she said. “It would be easy to have 10 or 15 students do a small program, whether it be cooking or gardening. We’re going to keep the main little section open, and it’s definitely going to be hooked up to electric.”
In the coming spring, Cawthon hopes the proximity of the new farm to campus will get students excited about growing their own food. Soon enough, the dining halls will be filled with even more Bowdoin produce.