Incredible Edible Milbridge (IEM) is a food growing initiative that is taking over a tiny town on the Maine coast. I have been visiting Milbridge since I was a baby- my great grandmother lived there for ninety-five years – and, in the short (by comparison) twenty-two years that I have been alive, I have noticed some huge changes to the town. This summer, on my annual Maine visit, I was struck by yet another development- Incredible Edible Milbridge. Dotted around the town are a series of flower beds, growing a variety of produce. The miniature gardens are everywhere: next to the post office, behind the library and even in the parking lot of the supermarket. Accompanying each bed is a sign reading ‘Veggies are for everyone- these are for you! Have a veggie on us- if it’s ripe, pick it!’ The beds included strawberries, beans, lettuce, herbs, kale, tomatoes and the list goes on.
IEM, organized by Milbridge’s Women’s Health Resource Library (WHRL), serves two purposes. At a basic level it feeds people- and feeds them for free- but it also encourages a conversation about food growing and the benefits of eating organic. The gardens were initially set up by fifty volunteers, and have grown to encompass twenty-four sites around the town. The idea that local food can promote not only physical health but also mental wellbeing is something that resonates with WEN’s own work on food growing, and we are always excited to hear about similar initiatives. We also passionately believe in the power of local food growing to bring communities together, something that we feel has been demonstrated strongly by our Tower Hamlets community gardens, and it seems that the same thing is happening in Milbridge.
I caught up with Susan Jordan Bennett, from the Women’s Health Resource Library, to find out more about the project.
Your website states that Incredible Edible Milbridge was inspired by Incredible Edible Todmorden- what made you think that the same initiative would work/ was important in Milbridge?
Milbridge is a small, rural community, not unlike Todmorden, where there is already an interest in organic gardening and farming. When it comes to thinking about creating a healthier community, we are what we eat and we all eat, so food really is a universal language.
Incredible Edible Milbridge is run by the Women’s Health Resource Library- what do you think is the connection between women's health and gardening?
It's not just about women's health. We find that women tend to be the primary consumers of health care for their families. Gardening is good for the body and the mind. Our relationship with nature can be healing - exercise, fresh air, and connecting with the earth center us and strengthens the body and mind. Easy access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables means better nutrition for us and our families.
What role have women played in the formation and maintenance of the garden?
The WHRL and IEM leadership are women, and the initial concept for bringing the Incredible Edible concept to Milbridge came from this group. Women tend to be nurturers and we see that in our volunteers. The majority of the volunteers who plant and manage the raised beds are women, yet our invaluable Market Garden farmer is a man.
What are your plans for the future of the project?
Incredible Edible Milbridge is expanding. Our Market Garden will expand from 10,000 square feet to 14,800 square feet of space. Community businesses and non-profit groups are providing access to more land for gardening, educational opportunities, and a future walking track.
What do you think has been the most successful thing about Incredible Edible Milbridge?
When we started this just three years ago, we didn't know how the project would be received by the community. We worried, what if we had food left over? This year, when we've finally hit our stride with 25 raised beds and the 10,000 square foot Market Garden, there is no food left over. All of the produce is going home. People are talking and people are picking. It's very exciting!
Find more information about Incredible Edible Milbridge here.