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February 6, 2024

Seed money: Downeast nonprofit awarded $270K for Machias community garden project

person in a conference room pointing at a map on the wall Provided photo Healthy Acadia will receive $270,000 in federal funding for a community garden in Machias. Here, Regina Grabrovac of Healthy Acadia shows a map of the garden layout at a November meeting in Machias.

Healthy Acadia, an Ellswoth-based nonprofit that’s building a multipurpose community garden in Machias, has been awarded a $270,000 federal grant for the undertaking.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funding will support the project, known as the Downeast Restorative Harvest. Food grown on site by volunteers, including residents of nearby correctional facilities, will be used at the Washington County jail and donated to local food pantries.

U.S. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, advocated for the funding though the congressionally designated spending process.

Both the county jail and Maine Department of Corrections are partners in the community garden project. The USDA is investing the funds through its Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program, which provides affordable funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas.

portrait photo of women with long red hair
File photo
Rhiannon Hampson

“USDA Rural Development believes in the potential this project holds,” USDA Maine State Director Rhiannon Hampson said in Monday’s announcement. "Turning an undeveloped piece of property into a place to nourish people is the kind of resilience that helps rural Maine to thrive.

“The act of growing food is one of optimism, and it is in many ways a path forward. This Healthy Acadia project demonstrates that even when an individual is struggling, the administration will patiently invest in their success.”

After breaking ground on the garden in 2023, the team behind the project began developing the county-owned property. During the first season, staff and volunteers built a driveway and parking area, laid out the garden beds and planted cover crops. 

This spring, the plan is to plant the first food crops at the site. Eventually, residents of nearby correctional facilities will work in the gardens, helping to increase the scale of production.

The Maine Department of Corrections is nationally recognized for its success in growing and sourcing local foods using innovative, cost-effective strategies. 

“The Maine Department of Corrections is committed and excited to work with our community partners with this ground-breaking project,” said the department's commissioner, Randy Liberty. “We recognize that through our combined efforts we can achieve much. I have been very pleased with the success of this project thus far and look forward to watching the gardens flourish.”

Healthy Acadia plans to foster collaboration between members of the recovery community, residents of area correctional facilities, University of Maine Cooperative Extension educators and others. 

Food grown at the new garden will be used at the Washington County jail and donated to local food pantries. Participating inmates will learn practical life and employment skills while growing nutritious food for neighbors in need. 

“There is nothing more important than ensuring our fellow Mainers have access to healthy, fresh, vegetables,” Liberty said.

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