Black Bear Food Guild harvests went until
mid-October. Among those on hand for the final field cleanup was
sustainable agriculture major Stephanie Sosinski, lower right photo, who
will conduct this summer's guild with UMaine students David Merrill and
David LaMarche. The Black Bear Food Guild, established in 1994, is an
initiative of UMaine's Sustainable Agriculture Program, coordinated by
Associate Professor Marianne Sarrantonio. UMaine's program was one of
the first in the country to offer an undergraduate degree in sustainable
In early April, the first of the verdant seedlings were sprouting
in a University of Maine greenhouse and in May, the two acres of fields
out at the university's Rogers Farm were dry enough to begin planting.
The 35 full shares in the Black Bear Food Guild were sold and other
subscribers hoping to be part of the summer's community-supported
agriculture project had to be turned away.
All was going according to plan, based on the
fundamentals of sustainable agriculture. But looking out over the tilled
fields, not a green shoot in sight, the guild's student manager Hayley
Williams was feeling the pressure.
Then the new potatoes started coming up.
"In the greenhouse, it seemed hypothetical," says
Williams. "(The first signs of growth in the field) made it all feel a
lot more real."
Williams had just finished her sophomore year, and
Britta Jinson and Elonnai Hickok their first year when the three took
over operation of the Black Bear Food Guild last summer. The guild's
close connection between food producer and consumer drew the sustainable
agriculture majors to the project. That connectedness also sustained
them through Maine mud and blackfly seasons; the 12-hour summer days,
working dawn to dusk; and even the one major crop failure — early
tomatoes to blossom end rot.
"It was very challenging and very fulfilling," says
Hickok. "It's really hard work and stressful because you don't have
control over the outcome. If a field fails, you have to take it as it
"I learned perseverance and teamwork," Hickok says.
"And I gained a greater understanding and respect for the whole process
From June to October, the guild supplied subscribers
twice a week with fresh, organically grown produce ranging from salad
greens and radishes to winter squash. At the height of the growing
season and harvest, nearly 700 pounds of produce a week was available.
The guild also donated to the Plant a Row for the Hungry program,
coordinated in the state by University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
"The interaction with members made us really proud
of the work we did," Williams says. "We learned that they didn't just
want fresh vegetables, but a program condoning local values and
"It was one of the most intense experiences of my
life. We were working so hard and had so much self-responsibility. The
time just flew by. It was completely overwhelming — and life-changing."
by Margaret Nagle
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