STONINGTON — The lovingly nicknamed “Dump Garden,” a project of Ready by 21 Mentoring, is having success in its third growing season.
Ready by 21 Mentoring is a privately funded organization that helps island students prepare for life after high school.
The Garden Project features a greenhouse, multiple beds of vegetables and flowers and a farm stand at the entrance to the Stonington Transfer Station.
“The town of Stonington is very sweet to let us use it,” said Matthew Carter, who coordinates the Garden Project. “It was old farmland once upon a time.”
The hillside growing operation gets direct sunlight all day long.
“It feels like a treasure hunt,” said sophomore Leighia Gray of Little Deer Isle as she dug for potatoes on Monday with junior Jill McDonald of Deer Isle.
Other students were involved in the beginning of the growing season, but Gray and McDonald were the only two to show up every week all summer to weed, water and harvest.
They also sold fresh vegetables and flower bouquets at the farm stand on Saturday mornings. They sold beeswax wraps, Kombucha and “Dump Garden” emblazoned T-shirts that support the program at the Deer Isle Farmers Market on Tuesday evenings. They also made pesto out of garlic scapes to sell. The pesto sold out quickly.
“The three of were together 15 hours a week this summer,” said Carter, noting that the students also held down full-time summer jobs as well.
Between tending the crops and running the farm stand on Saturday mornings, Gray and McDonald have developed their sales skills and business acumen along with greener thumbs.
The pair has learned a lot over the summer, Carter said. “It’s been really cool to watch them take ownership.
McDonald added, “You realize too how much nicer stuff tastes when it’s fresh. And you know where it’s coming from.”
The two are already thinking about their next season of crops
“Peas and beans, definitely flowers,” McDonald said. “We might grow some new things.”
The gardeners are letting the existing kale plants go to seed. McDonald said they’ll save the seeds.
The students intend to plant more kale and other cold-hardy greens before fall.
Another benefit of the garden being located at the transfer station is finding cast-offs to help with the operation.
For example, the students used an old wooden, picket fence someone left as a trellis for crops that like to climb. They also recycled a baby crib to serve as a pea trellis.
The Garden Program will be at the Deer Isle Farmers Market on Tuesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. until Thanksgiving. Dump Garden T-shirts, beeswax wraps and Kombucha will be for sale.
Local chef and business owner Kyra Alex founded Ready by 21 Mentoring in 2010.
“This is our ninth year and we are making some big changes,” Alex said.
Ready by 21, which is an offshoot of a national program, had operated by matching students with adult mentors for five years.
However, the organization plans to change that model in 2020.
“Based on eight years of programming experience we have determined that group mentoring has been much more effective in many ways than our one to one mentoring programs,” Alex said.
“We have just hired a group mentoring project director, Elissa Nabozny, and will be introducing the program in the beginning of the new year.”
“We are super excited and have hopes of bridging the gap between island youth and youth on the surrounding peninsula,” Alex said. “We also hope to open access to home-schooled and to get displaced youth involved as well.”
Ready by 21 has been well embraced by the community near and far.
Deer Isle’s 44 North Coffee has donated coffee grounds for the compost pile.
The greenhouse is built from windows salvaged from a friend of Carter’s as well as wood sourced from transfer station cast-offs.
Local builder Renee Sewall built the greenhouse and the garden beds and will be instrumental in building a new and improved deer fence for the crops.
Ready by 21 received a grant from Maine Farmland Trust to fund the deer fence and a new farm stand.
Ready by 21, which is incorporated as a 501(c)(3), is privately funded.
Tax-deductible donations may be made online at the program’s website readyby21mentoring.com or sent to Ready by 21 Mentoring, P.O. Box 216, Deer Isle, ME 04627.