New youth gardening program launches at Buker Community Center in Augusta

By Keith Edwards Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Nine-year-old Morgan Cunningham didn’t mind getting her hands dirty Monday morning while helping to plant onions and green peppers in two new garden beds as part of the groundbreaking for the Buker Youth Gardening Program.

Actually, that may have been her favorite part.

“It’s fun getting dirty,” said Morgan, one of about a dozen youths from the city’s summer child care program housed nearby at the Buker Community Center who helped put in the first two gardens.

Children in the city-run summer child care program will weed and tend to the gardens, which organizer Dan Emery hopes will introduce local youths to the world of gardening.

“It’s a great lifelong skill with so many benefits,” Emery said of gardening. “It gets you out in the fresh air, where you can enjoy some camaraderie with other gardeners, hopefully helps people become more aware of eating healthy. Its potential for reducing hunger is right up there, and it’s a fun hobby, too.”

Emery is a city councilor in Augusta who, last year with fellow local resident Myles Chung, went on a nearly yearlong 48-state tour of the United States on motor scooters in an effort to explore potential solutions to ending hunger by examining hunger-related programs as part of their American Community Project.

On one stop during their tour, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Emery was especially impressed with a youth gardening program, Global Gardens, part of which he hopes to replicate now that he has returned home to Augusta.

Deb Castonguay, the Buker program’s volunteer coordinator, said in addition to the group of children who helped fill the two raised gardens with a mix of dirt and compost Monday, two other groups will weed, water and tend to the gardens.

Emery said adult volunteers also will help maintain the gardens.

Children in the program dug right into their work Monday morning, planting onions and green peppers in the first of what Emery said could be around 20 4-feet-by-4-feet cedar-plank-sided raised gardens.

Castonguay coordinated the children’s work as they shoveled dirt and compost into a wheelbarrow, stapled landscaping cloth in place, filled the boxlike gardens and carefully planted vegetables.

“Use two hands. Be rugged. Come on, buckaroo,” she urged as one boy squeezed a hard-to-shoot staple into place, securing the landscaping fabric on the bottom of the garden before it was filled with dirt.

Jack Billings, 11, worked the handles of the dirt-filled wheelbarrow as Braydon Lincoln, 11, steadied the front of it to keep it from tipping over and dumping its load before reaching the gardens, which are tucked between a city park and ballfields next to the community center, near the intersection of Capitol and Armory streets.

Both boys said they had done some gardening at home.

Jack said he liked being able to help out with the garden.

Braydon said he liked getting his hands dirty, and he likes to watch plants grow. His favorite vegetable is corn.

The materials for the first two gardens were donated, including the cedar planks assembled by Manchester resident David Kahl, a member of the Augusta Rotary Club, with materials left over from a Rotary project in which Rotarians built raised garden beds for the Maine Veterans’ Home in Augusta.

Organizers are looking to raise $2,500 to pay for materials to build more gardens and buy gardening tools for youths to use to tend them. They’ve started a fundraising campaign to raise those funds at the crowd-funding sustainable-food movement websiteBarnraiser. However, the project gets the money, Emery said, only if the entire $2,500 goal is pledged by Aug. 15.

The summer child care participants will help tend the gardens for as long as they are in session, but that lasts only until the start of the school year.

After that, Emery is hopeful youths from the Augusta Boys & Girls Club for Teens, which is also housed in the Buker Community Center, will join in and help tend and, eventually, harvest the gardens.

Between the summer child care program and the Boys & Girls Club, there are about 150 youths at Buker Community Center, near the gardens.

Emery hopes the program eventually could expand into the city’s schools.

Keith Edwards 

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