Growing to Give was founded in April 2017 by a group of 16 people who came together around the idea of growing organic vegetables at Scatter Good Farm using climate-friendly methods, and donating them to local people struggling with food insecurity through food pantries and other food access sites. John Newlin, a recently-retired educator, had been working since 2014 to expand climate-friendly production on the farm where he and his life partner and wife, Patty Carton, had moved with their two sons, Mitch and Joe, in 2002. Theda Lyden, a retired executive chef, an organic market gardener, and long-time friend of John and Patty, began working part-time at Scatter Good Farm as the farm manager in 2015 growing vegetables for a new line of organic tomato-based sauces she was creating. In 2016, the farm received organic certification from MOFGA and doubled its vegetable production.
However, in 2016 Theda also became aware, through her Master Gardener volunteer work, of the Merrymeeting Gleaners, a non-profit group that harvests excess farm and garden produce for donation to food banks and pantries. Then late that fall, Rebecca McConnaughey, a lead Merrymeeting Gleaner, came to Scatter Good Farm to pick up some excess peppers (that had already been harvested) so they could be taken to a local food bank. Theda, Patty, and John met Rebecca at the farm, and learned about Twin Villages Foodbank Farm, which was then about one year old. To put in mildly, they were drawn to the idea of making the final “destination” of Scatter Good Farm’s beautiful, organic, fresh vegetables be the shelves of local food pantries – instead of sauce jars. This led them to learn more about food security programs in Maine and elsewhere, such as Veggies for All, and Mainers Feeding Mainers, but it was their meeting, in January 2017, with Sara Cawthon of Twin Villages Foodbank Farm, that convinced them to move ahead with this idea.
At that point, they figured they had just enough time to get launched for the 2017 growing season, so they promptly shut down the fledgling sauce business, and with the help of many others, they co-founded the nonprofit Growing to Give, a nonprofit organic grow-for-donation farming operation at the farm that would use climate-friendly farming practices to help address the issues of both climate change (now a major concern of nearly everyone) and food insecurity (long a major concern of all three of them, and a career focus in John’s family for generations).
Following the Twin Villages model, which operates under the nonprofit Damariscotta River Association, John began reaching out to existing local nonprofit organizations in hopes of finding one that would allow the project to operate under its nonprofit status (for the first year at least). He received lots of helpful information and encouragement during this process, but the project wasn’t a good fit for any of these organizations for a variety of reasons, so the decision was made to start a brand new nonprofit, and fast. They knew the timeline would now be very tight to launch for the 2017 growing season, but they didn’t want to wait until 2018. Fortunately, both John and Patty had nonprofit experience, and Leah Bennett, a business associate of John’s and the treasurer of another nonprofit, was available to help John with the nonprofit application process.
John quickly reached out to several people who he and Patty thought might be interested in serving on the board of this new nonprofit, and they were delighted when twelve people responded positively. Meanwhile, Theda worked with the Merrymeeting Gleaners to get their assistance in determining what vegetables the smaller, and often undersupplied, local food banks and pantries needed most, and to make a plan with them for their help with both the harvesting and the transportation of the harvest.
Between mid-March and mid-April 2017, three long meetings were held involving the board and staff during which many ideas were discussed and refined, bylaws were created, board officers were elected, a budget was approved, and the project was named. By late April, Growing to Give* had become an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a strong board, an experienced staff, and a detailed plan to grow and donate approximately two tons of veggies during the 2017 pilot season.
In 2018, with the help of a huge increase in hours donated by a wide range of volunteers and partners (especially the Merrymeeting Gleaners), Growing to Give was able to quadruple vegetable production over 2017, and then production in 2019 was almost as big as 2018. As a result, over its first three growing seasons, Growing to Give grew more than 35,000 lbs. of organic vegetables (on about a half-acre), and donated them to neighbors in need through over 20 local food access sites. At the same time, Growing to Give hosted some wonderful community-building fundraising events, expanded the use of biochar across all fields, and welcomed many hundreds of volunteers and visitors – who learned about food insecurity, healthy food, biochar, electric farm equipment, and other climate-friendly farming practices.
In late 2019 Growing to Give received a major grant from the Windover Foundation that will enable another major expansion in 2020, with more land under production, more hoop houses, more storage space, a new portable seedling and Coolbot trailer, and more biochar vegetable trials. In addition, plans are underway to significantly increase the use of no-till farming and perennial crops in 2020 and beyond – practices that would have been more difficult to incorporate in previous years.
In terms of funding, basic start-up money for the first four years has been provided by co-founders Patty and John, but other funding sources have been growing since the beginning, and we hope these funding sources will soon completely “replace” the start-up funding when it ends in 2020. Going forward, the primary sources of funding for Growing to Give are projected to be from individual donations, fundraising events, and business sponsorships.
While initially inspired by Twin Villages Foodbank Farm and other grow-for-donation programs, over our first three years of operation we found we needed to blaze a somewhat unique path toward long-term viability, which we hope will enable Growing to Give to have a significant positive impact, in keeping with its mission, until truly systemic solutions for food insecurity and climate change have been achieved. Fortunately, the decisions made by Growing to Give thus far (about governance, volunteering, fundraising, outreach, communications, facilities, equipment, insurance, staffing, etc.), have enabled it to enjoy rapid but well-funded growth, and more importantly, there is good evidence that Growing to Give’s mission is being strongly addressed by its operations.
For additional chapters to this story, please check out the news section of this website, and our Facebook page. We hope you will get involved with Growing to Give and help us write the next chapter of this story!
*Growing to Give is an authorized DBA of the nonprofit Center for a Green Future, which is incorporated in Maine.
Scatter Good Farm
Growing to Give operates at Scatter Good Farm, which is a half-hour drive from Portland, Bath, and Lewiston/Auburn. In addition to hosting Growing to Give, Scatter Good Farm is home of the Carton-Newlin family, seven friendly Nigerian Dwarf goats, and periodic batches of organic chickens. Scatter Good Farm also offers farm stays through Airbnb, and space rentals in a renovated barn. To learn more, visit Scatter Good Farm.