More than 100 area residents gathered in Fort Fairfield on July 17 to celebrate the first planting of a community garden and to get a first look at plans for a memorial garden that will honor those who provided healthcare in the region, and the area residents who benefitted from those services.
Through a town-wide collaboration, the spot where two sections of the former Community General Hospital once stood, and an adjacent piece of land owned by TAMC, are undergoing a transformation. One parcel of land is set aside for community members to gather, reflect and enjoy nature; and another a spot where they can work the soil and grow healthy produce for themselves, their families and others.
The unveiling of the conceptual design for the new Fort Fairfield Memorial Garden, and a first-time planting celebration for the new Fort Fairfield Community Garden, took place during the Maine Potato Blossom Festival at the Fort Fairfield Health Center operated by TAMC. The event kicked-off with a family concert featuring popular children’s entertainer Rick Charrette which drew audience members spanning four generations.
Throughout the concert performance, and following the unveiling of the conceptual drawing of the Memorial Garden, community members of all ages planted seedlings in the brand new community garden. Area residents are able to reserve a plot for themselves in the garden as space allows.
“For those of us who hold Fort Fairfield near and dear to our hearts, this Community Garden and the Memory/Healing Garden are ways to express the continuation of the 'Passion for Community' in Fort Fairfield. What better way to nurture life than in a garden - where folks can take time to reflect upon the gifts we continually receive from our community? Life is truly one transition after another,” said Rayle Reed Ainsworth, co-chair of the project committee. “TAMC’s willingness to consider the creation of a therapeutic space as a tribute to those who created our Community General Hospital years ago, as well as for those actively now living in a healthy community, is an outward and visible sign to all that Fort Fairfield’s Quality of Place Council and TAMC are joined in an effort to heal and support Fort Fairfield's citizens in their everyday lives.”
The Fort Fairfield Community Garden is an organic garden that was born through a partnership between TAMC and the Town of Fort Fairfield. A citizen’s advisory committee, known as the Community General Hospital Legacy Committee, has been working with TAMC and town officials since September 2014 to get the project off the ground. The group has partnered with the local Future Farmers of America chapter, under the direction of advisor Jeannie Fox, to manage the project and oversee the garden.
Fox and her students were on hand at the event to lead and assist community members, including children, in planting seedlings and vegetables that will grow in what remains of the current County growing season. They also spoke with interested community members about “adopting a plot” for the current season or next.
CGH Legacy Committee members have worked through the winter to plan for the community garden and establish guidelines for community usage. Research on similar projects in southern Maine helped guide the local effort.
Plots, approximately one hundred square feet each, are assigned on a first come, first served basis. Member gardeners are expected to tend to their own plots, including keeping their assigned area weeded and harvested throughout the season. In addition, participants assist in maintaining the garden fence, paths and common areas.
As part of the mission of the community garden, to help alleviate hunger in the community, space has been set aside to grow produce for Catholic Charities Maine and Families Feeding Families. Members will be asked to donate time each month to plant, tend or harvest vegetables for these charities within the area of the community garden known as the “Common Good” plot that will be managed by the Fort Fairfield FFA.
TAMC has contributed the land for the garden, use of a storage building located nearby on the Health Center property for storage of tools and other items that will be made available to gardeners, and administrative and financial support to get the project off the ground. Working collaboratively with Town of Fort Fairfield officials, water has been extended to the garden from the Health Center building, tilling of the ground at the site has been completed, and compost delivered.
In the future, the intent is operating costs, including administration and coordination, will come from plot holder fees ($25 for Fort Fairfield residents, $30 for non-residents) donations, grants, and fundraising events, as well as limited administrative support and coordination from TAMC and the Town of Fort Fairfield. For municipal officials, the community garden project is seen as a great extension of other community-wide efforts to improve the quality of life of area residents.
“The community garden project provides a place to grow vegetables for those town residents who do not have space where they live, as well as an opportunity to share the love of gardening with fellow residents. The garden will support a healthy lifestyle of those who participate, both by the produce from the garden and the outdoor activity the garden will provide. The Town appreciates the generous support of TAMC in helping our residents live a healthier lifestyle,” said Town Manager Jim Risner.
The Fort Fairfield Community Garden will be located adjacent to the Fort Fairfield Memorial Garden, which will be installed in the area of the footprint of the original 1950 section of the former Community General Hospital and physician office building that was added to the complex in 1971.
The Memorial Garden, which will officially open in 2016, is meant to pay tribute to the legacy of the former facility and its staff, volunteers, donors, and patients through the years. It will be a space for quiet reflection and a venue for community performances and gatherings in the future.
Plans for the space, which were unveiled at the July 17 event, include the opportunity for community members and individuals and groups with connections to Fort Fairfield and the former hospital/current health center to pay tribute to loved ones and those who have helped advance the town or healthcare in the region through the purchase of various items that will be included in the Memorial Garden. Included will be park benches, trees and shrubs, and even a pavilion-style gazebo that is part of the design.
“Purchasing a granite bench, tree, or shrub is a wonderful way for area residents to create a lasting memory for one’s family members or to honor staff that has worked at Community General Hospital,” said James McKenney, TAMC vice president of support services and co-chair of the Community General Hospital Legacy Committee.
Individuals, area businesses and organizations interested in supporting the Memorial Garden are encouraged to contact the TAMC Foundation at (207) 768-4350 to learn more about available opportunities.
As work gets underway on both the Community and Memorial Gardens, plans are also being made inside the health center for a permanent exhibit of photographs and artifacts that depict the history of healthcare in the community. The museum space will include several items saved over the years by the Fort Fairfield Frontier Heritage Historical Society, which could not previously be displayed due to space constraints.