It’s not uncommon for someone to show up at the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen in Augusta with a bag full of fresh broccoli, tomatoes or other leftovers from their garden. In recent months, however, Glenn and Rachel Powers have taken that kind of community support to a whole new level.
They’re giving away the farm.
“I like its immediate impact,” Glenn said last week while three pigs munched away at their feed in a tree-filled pen out back. “I mean, you’re putting a hot meal on someone’s plate. That’s why we chose a soup kitchen, so we could see the folks we’re helping out.”
The couple, both 39, live with their 4-year-old son, Nestor, on 30 acres atop a windswept ridge in Windsor. They moved to Maine in 2005 after teaching at a public alternative school in New York City — East Harlem, to be exact — meaning the Powerses are very much from away.
Yet here they are, with another long winter at their doorstep, putting their homegrown food where other Mainers’ mouths are.
Since this fall’s harvest began, the Powerses have loaded some 450 pounds of carrots, beets, zucchini, cucumbers, beans, broccoli, radishes, rutabagas, potatoes, spinach and leeks into the back of their small Surbaru and ferried the bounty 20 minutes west to the soup kitchen on Water Street in Augusta.
They’ve also raised, slaughtered and delivered 50 Cornish Rock Cross chickens — each weighing about 5 pounds. And 45 Giant White turkeys — tipping the scales at 20 pounds per bird.
Last but not least, the three, 275-pound Berkshire pigs will go directly from the butcher to the soup kitchen in late December.
“For us, this came right out of the blue,” said Dean Lachance, executive director of the nonprofit Bread of Life Ministries. “It’s amazing. It really is.”
It all started earlier this year when Glenn got an idea for turning his and Rachel’s love of growing their own food into something bigger than a full freezer and a well-stocked cupboard.
“We’re just a hobby farm, you know what I mean?” Glenn noted. “This is not what we do for a living.”
Indeed. Glenn commutes more than an hour each day to the coastal town of Edgecomb, where he teaches fifth and sixth grades at the Center for Teaching and Learning, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade demonstration school. Rachel, meanwhile, splits her time as a social worker between her private practice and a staff position at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle.
Glenn’s light-bulb moment: Why not expand their growing operation into one of those community-supported agriculture deals where people buy a “subscription” to a farm in the spring and then withdraw their fresh produce at the end of the growing season. Only in this case, turn the deposits into donations, and they give all the harvested food to the local soup kitchen.
“We raised close to $3,000 — mostly from friends and family,” Glenn said. “Without that, there’s no way we could have done it.”
They call it “2535 Farm.” Glenn, who like Rachel is not active in any organized religion, nevertheless chose the name as a reference to Chapter 25, Verse 35 in the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew: “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”
“I just thought that quote was fairly straightforward,” Glenn explained, “and I thought it was a catchy name.”
The work, documented on the Powers’ website (2535farm.blogspot.com), has been by no means easy. The donations, in the end, covered only about half of the cost of planting and mulching the 14 vegetable beds; purchasing, feeding and slaughtering the livestock; and transporting it all to Augusta.
They chose the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen, which serves lunch six days a week to Augusta’s homeless and needy, for one simple reason.
“It always has a huge line coming out of it,” Glenn said. “Always.”
That line, no surprise, is getting longer.
According to Executive Director Lachance, the 27-year-old soup kitchen filled all-time record numbers of hungry stomachs in both August and September. By year’s end, he said, the annual total for meals served is expected to jump from a typical 36,000 to more than 40,000.
“That’s a lot in a city with 18,000 people,” Lachance observed, noting that the bump can be seen in the faces of “nontraditional clients” who 12 months ago never dreamed they would be heading down to Water Street, often with children in tow, in desperate search of a hot meal.
“Without a doubt, these last three years have been traumatic,” Lachance said.
To be sure, it’s not uncommon for members of the community to show up with surplus from their backyard vegetable gardens or other tokens of support. Lachance still remembers one generous man who for years stopped by twice a month and quietly dropped off 20 pounds of high-quality beef or pork.
But a whole farm?
“It’s phenomenal,” said Lachance. “This is on a larger scale than anything we’ve seen before.”
Glenn and Rachel Powers haven’t decided yet whether they’ll do this again next year or move to an every-other-year operation. They still need to balance the books for 2011 and would like to carve out time next summer to visit friends and relatives out of state.
However, they hope that by rolling up their sleeves this year, they might inspire a few others like them who don’t mind getting their hands a little dirty for the greater good.
“Some friends have said, ‘Wow! Why are you doing that?’ ” Rachel said.
“Gosh, why wouldn’t you do it?” she replied. “We’re going to do it anyway because we like to farm, and we can produce more than we can eat. And everyone’s hard hit right now. So to me, it’s like ‘Yeah, of course!’ “
Besides, six years after the Powers traded the urban landscape of East Harlem for a panoramic view of the distant White Mountains, central Maine has become much more than just a new address.
It’s where their roots are.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: