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Life Arts

Lots to Gardens: Bridging the People of Lewiston Maine Through Food Production and Sharing

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"We help out the little guy in a big corporate world"

-Jeanette -- Lots to Garden

Lewiston, Maine by national standards is a small town, sporting a population of 41,592 people according to the 2010 census.   The downtown section has a large population of Somalis as well as under- and unemployed whites, primarily of Franco-American decent.   The divide between the Somalis and the white population is troublesome.   As young, white teenage boys walk the streets, it is not an unfamiliar sight for a pedestrian to notice one of the boys trying to entice the Somalis into a fight.   At times their aggressive gestures towards one another are just that, gestures.   But, then there are other times when they become more than play.  

The Lewiston area was formerly inhabited by peoples of the Androscoggin (or Arosaguntacook) tribe. The Androscoggins were a sub-tribe of the Abenaki nation. They were driven out of the area in 1690 during King William's War and relocated to St. Francis (now Odanak), Canada which was destroyed by Roger's Rangers in 1759.

After the takeover of the Lewiston area, the town ultimately became a textile manufacturing centre.   This was its heyday, when it was known as a great city.   Today, it continues its bustle through assorted service industries.          

While some claim that downtown Lewiston has been rejuvenated, others see a large portion of it as being saturated in poverty, crime, drug and alcohol abuse as well as familial abuse.   Many of the current residents of Lewiston are scared about their future.   For example, the Maine Governor recently announced his plan to take several thousand off the Mainecare (Medicaid) rolls.   This plan will serve as several bullets aimed at different people.   For example, it will obviously affect the poor, the mentally ill and those who are elderly.   But it will also create a devastating blow towards services for these impoverished people such as medical care, psychiatric and mental health care as well as care for drug and alcohol addictions.   Since my job is devoted to working with families containing children at-risk for being incarcerated, this means my job is also on the line.   More importantly, if my job goes, is the state going to fund for more prisons for these kids, and how are they going to handle the costs entailed in drug and alcohol abuse, high crime rates, and so on?   Furthermore, the cuts are not only being levelled towards people in the mental or physical health systems.   It is also being levelled towards those working in children's probation, which again focuses on trying to get services to help reduce a child's risk for detention.

One could also speculate that the government is shooting its nose off spite its face in not giving children (or adults) services.   But, given the privatization of jails, it could be just a matter of time before Maine's juvenile detention facilities become private which would ultimately mean a Henry Ford Assembly Line procedure for incarcerating kids.   Taking my fears further, I think ultimately this may be a ploy to get cheap labour for the corporations.   Child labour comes cheap...but I hope I'm wrong.   I wasn't wrong with China's scenario nor was I wrong with my predictions regarding the NAFTA Treaty.  

But, perhaps we need to accept this overall trend in western society.   Services are being cut.   Our retirements, our pensions, and our insurances are all going the way of the dinosaur.   And, we are becoming slaves.   So what shall we do?

Perhaps we need to become independent of government and industry and begin taking care of ourselves?      

Lots to Gardens is a youth and community driven organization in Lewiston that takes a proactive approach to this very problem.   Lots to Gardens fights poverty and its effects by using sustainable urban agriculture to create work that allows access to fresh food, and to nurture healthy youth and a healthy community.  As such Kirsten Walter, the driving force behind Lots to Gardens, states:

"The stress of poverty is a big factor in the health of community members.   When I moved to Lewiston, I noticed how people held themselves.   They carried a huge weight on their shoulders from an inner sense of worthlessness.   They were seeing a reflection of themselves as not worth anything in the mirror the community leaders and landlords held up to them.   My original vision for Lots to Gardens was to help change that mirror.   People are so profoundly affected by the people they are surrounded by and bonded to.   We needed to build a tight-knit community in which residents shared the joy of giving to each other.   That's what Lots to Gardens is accomplishing as we help people build self-reliance, knowledge, skills and empowerment."  

The organization teaches people how to grow their own food, while providing affordable access to fresh food.   This process helps to build community leaders in the Lewiston area by involving youth as foundational members to the running of the program.   Lots to Gardens prepares Lewiston and its residents for the future by helping them develop skills and build power for lifelong and community-wide change.   Since 1999, Lots to Gardens has built fifteen gardens and green-spaces in four diverse neighbourhoods in Lewiston, Maine. They are sponsored by St. Mary's Health System. http://www.stmarysmaine.com/

Lots to Gardens helps to diminish the need for large-scale corporate production of food.   Through Lots to Gardens' programs, hundreds of families and elders of both white and Somali origin have grown their own food, learned to value fresh and local produce, thus fostering local businesses, while they have learned to prepare nutritious meals.

Eating local foods is overall healthier than eating grocery store foods, especially foods canned, frozen and otherwise highly processed as well as produced and shipped from throughout the world.   As reflected in the following excerpt from Record-On-Line http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080723/HEALTH/807230315/-1/HEALTH05:

Much of the produce sold at large supermarket chains is grown hundreds of miles away, in places such as California, Florida and Mexico. That means days -- perhaps even more than a week -- have passed since it was picked, packaged and trucked to the store, where it can sit on the shelves even longer. Often, too, produce is picked before its ready, preventing it from ever reaching its nutritional potential.

Not only is the food grown by Lots to Gardens healthier because it is fresher, but so is the education received by the young clients it serves.   For example, Lots to Gardens provides an educational system for children not fostered through our "teach to the test" mentality so pervasive since the Bush era.   Through the youth training programs, sixty youth have given a summer of service to others; received job training, and participated in empowering themselves and their community.   Kirsten explains:

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Burl is an avid writer and publishes to OpEd News. He is author of "Sophia's Web: A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature." As of this writing, Burl is planning to self-publish the book. Alongside his wife, Burl co-hosts an on line radio (more...)
 

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