by Rachel Stamieszkin, Master gardener volunteer and Bet Ha’am garden committee member
Have you seen our raised beds when you are visiting Bet Ha’am? Ever wonder what we grow and where it goes? Did you ever wonder what the Maine Harvest for Hunger is? Would you like to garden at Bet Ha’am?
Several years ago, the Garden Committee built raised beds at Bet Ha’am to grow vegetables for Bet Ha’am events, for donations to local food pantries, and for education. In recent years, our organic produce has been donated to Mainers in need through the Maine Harvest for Hunger program.
Did you know that Maine ranks highest among the New England states for food insecurity? People experiencing food insecurity do not have a sufficient quantity of affordable nutritious food. This can lead to health problems such as life-long disease, obesity, difficulties learning, and high-risk pregnancies.
Here are a few other statistics regarding food insecurity in Maine:
- 16% of all Mainers are food insecure
- 14% of all Maine seniors are food insecure
- 21% of all Maine children are food insecure
- Maine is ranked 1st in New England for food insecurity
- Maine ranks 9th in the US for food insecurity
- 37% of food-insecure Mainers are not eligible for assistance and rely on food pantries to supplement their nutrition
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Harvest for Hunger program is a grassroots effort to encourage gardeners, farmers, businesses, schools, civic groups, and others to donate high-quality fruits and vegetables to citizens in need. Through county-based networks, donated produce is delivered to food pantries, soup kitchens, community meal centers, and individuals across the state. Since the program began in 2000, more than 3 million pounds of food have been donated to agencies and food pantries throughout Maine. In 2019 alone, more than 193,000 pounds were donated.
Where does Bet Ha’am fit in? About 250 pounds of the produce raised in 2019 came from our own beds. It was delivered on a weekly basis throughout the growing season to Wayside Food Programs, one of the Maine Harvest for Hunger agencies. Wayside in turn provides individuals and families with nutritious meals in safe, community surroundings, and access to food through food rescue activities. You can read more about Wayside here. Bet Ha’am is now on the official list of Maine Harvest for Hunger growing sites for Cumberland County!
Our raised beds have also been used for education about gardening: we partner with our own religious school as well as with visiting students from summer programs. Our students have enjoyed harvesting, planting, mulching, and composting.
Until now, our vegetable-growing program has been a great resource for production and education. In the future, I hope to secure a grant from the University of Maine Cumberland County Extension Service to build a disability-accessible bed; this would increase access to anyone who might wish to get involved but who cannot work in the existing beds. In addition, I hope to revitalize the “bean hut” that is drying out, cracking, and falling apart.
The Garden Committee welcomes anyone who is interested in helping with the planting, cultivation, and care of the plants in our raised beds as well as the rest of the Bet Ha’am’s gardens. If you are interested in participating in the Maine Harvest for Hunger program, please feel free to get in touch with me at any time. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 207-767-3603.
Midrash Tehillim 82:3
Defend the poor and the orphan; do justice to the afflicted and needy.