Countless peppers, 140 tomato plants and determined woodchucks:

A tale of the community garden at St. Joe's

Campus chaplain Father Paul Dumais admired his grandparents' garden as a child. Now he likes hard work and fresh vegetables, takes joy in planting and watching things grow, and says gardening is thoughtful and reflective. Here is his short essay about the community garden at St. Joe's this year. (He won't discuss the woodchucks, except to say the garden has been "properly secured.")

by Father Paul Dumais

Upon arriving at Saint Joseph's College last summer, as is my custom in any new place, I wandered around to discover beautiful spots in my new environs. Being on Sebago Lake, I knew it would not be difficult to find beauty - it never is, if we have our eyes open. One day I found myself pulled across Whites Bridge Road into the pastures that greet you as you exit the front entrance. I learned that before the college acquired the property, the farmhouse and barns across the road - which now house the marketing department - had been an alpaca farm. Behind the barns I discovered a large area enclosed by a rock wall. Now this was a find! Not only because of it own natural beauty, but because (to my way of thinking) it had "garden" written all over it.

Mike Blais '09

The love Michael Blais ’09 has for spicy food led him to raise hot peppers in his residence hall using grow lights. Now he is a lead member of the community garden team, a loosely organized group cultivating a campus plot of land across Whites Bridge Road from the main entrance gate.

At some point back, I caught what gardeners commonly call the "bug," that irrepressible desire to facilitate the growth of things. And not just with an eye toward the harvest, but for the sheer joy of watching plants grow from seed to seedling, to the whole array of vigorous plants, to fruit bearing, to eventual deterioration and death - only to witness the same cycle of life, death and new life again the following year.

Well, lo and behold, when I approached the rock wall last summer and jumped over it, my instincts were confirmed: there was a garden inside the wall. Matthew Olson '05 had planted a garden for the college's food vendor adjacent to the barn as well as a larger section farther afield, where tomatoes could be found staked and heavy with blossoms and green fruit.

After Matt moved away, Bon Appétit's general manager Stuart Leckie brought people together who had expressed interest in a community garden. A simple plan emerged: Stuart would provide basic start-up costs and materials, including basic tools, compost and seeds. In return, the café would receive the largest portion of the harvest to be used in meal preparation for students. The gardeners would divvy up a percentage of the rest, and some produce would be set aside for Catherine's Cupboard - the recently opened food pantry in Standish.

Facilities Management coordinated with Richard Rudolph of Rippling Waters Farm in order to till the ground. I purchased seeds. Mike Blais laid the plan, put down weed mats, and looked into irrigation options for the larger plot farther from the barn. Other students and recent graduates helped when they could. Nursing professor Ruth Smillie and her husband, Tom, put their own rototiller to good use while preparing other areas for planting. We spread compost and worked up specific areas to be planted.

When it was time to plant, we sowed greens, flowers, radishes, turnips, beets, peas and bok choi, cucumbers, squash, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seedlings, much of which the woodchuck really enjoyed.

The largest number of plants was tomatoes (all 140 of them) and a 100-ft. row of pepper plants in different shapes and sizes (and intensities).

The staff and friends of the college who put in sweat equity are Bob Irvine, Mary McVeigh, Andy Bott, Leigh Schwieterman and Anthony Schwieterman.

Thus far, we have enjoyed a modest harvest. It looks like tomatoes will be our "money crop" and will be a happy addition to the café. We have designated a portion of the larger field adjacent to the tomatoes for planting blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, but for now the 25 x 100 foot section has been planted to buckwheat as a cover crop. It will be cut and tilled to improve soil quality and control weed growth.

We are committed to learning about organic standards, fertilizing, mulching and developing a plan for insect and pest strategies.

Come to the dining hall this fall and enjoy the harvest. Bon appétit!