AUGUSTA — The community garden at the University of Maine at Augusta is as much about the community as it is the garden.

“We’re not just building a garden,” said Kati Corlew, assistant professor of psychology. “We are trying to create a movement and a community within UMA and within the Greater Augusta area.”

The 3,600-square-foot garden, located at the rear of the campus in a big field down a hill from the office of President James Conneely, fell fallow last year and is being revitalized this spring as part of a new cultivating community course taught by Corlew and assistant professor of social sciences James Cook.

This is the first year of the program, and this semester, 10 students are participating not only in working outside in the garden, but also in the classroom creating partnerships in the community.

One of the partnerships is with the Augusta Food Bank, which has received all the food from the garden since the garden first began producing it four years ago. Cook said the garden yielded 1,000 pounds of produce its first two years. The food bank tells the professors the kinds of fruit and vegetables favored by its clients, and Corlew said they are able to harvest food that can be given to food bank users.

Dan Oullette, a junior, was one of several students working in the garden Friday during the campus’ Earth Day activities. Oullette said he had almost no gardening experience before taking the course, and he was attracted by its mission to help others.

“Activism has always spoken to me, and this is empowering,” Oullette said. “The trick is pooling the community together to have that same passion, but it’s starting to come together.”

Cook and Corlew said the goal is to expand to the Bangor campus next year. After that, the program would alternate between campuses.

“We’ve gained a lot just teaching this course, and our next task is to make this small class part of a larger campus presence,” Cook said, “and that’s going to be a challenge.”

Cook said the goal for the weekend was to plant peas, radishes, early carrots and beans in the raised beds while plowing the remaining part of the garden. Over the summer, they hope a couple of students and community members will tend the garden a few times per week, which Corlew said is good for the garden’s and the individual’s well-being.

“We benefit when we help others,” Corlew said.

Cook said when people engage in community activities, they cease to become individuals and instead become part of a group and have a sense of belonging.

“That benefits the people participating and it benefits our community,” Cook said.

Corlew and Cook have been teaching students the theories behind social movements and social issues, including hunger, which is a growing concern among college students.

“They are putting those theories in practice by creating the community garden,” Corlew said. “This is not something that is theoretical for them, because more and more college students are dealing with hunger issues. They absolutely understand the importance of food security.”

Though a big part of the program is helping others in the community, one of the main reasons students participate is the gardening. Oullette said he grew up down the street from a farm in Arundel and did at-home gardening, but nothing like working in a 60-foot-by-60-foot community garden.

“This is well beyond my range of comfort,” Oullette said before heading back to work with some gloves and a rake. “But it’s all about stepping outside your comfort zone and making yourself.”

Elsewhere on campus Friday, UMA’s student government organization was taking part in its UMA Community Clean-Up Day in connection with Earth Day. More than 20 students and faculty and staff members were raking, weeding and cleaning around campus.

“They are taking the initiative to make the campus look good,” said Roger Mackbach, student government president.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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