The Mission Hill Community Garden

On any given day, The Mission Hill Community Garden can look pretty different. But whether a few green stalks are just starting to quietly push through the spring soil, or families are gathered to harvest their thriving flowers and veggies — at its roots it’s a place about connection. The small plot of land has been cultivated, but what grows there is up to the community. The same can be said of the Service Works program. The stage is set, with myriad community service projects set up for youth to participate in, staff members invested in their wellbeing, and the potential for reconciliation and renewal, but ultimately it’s the youth who decide to show up and engage with it.

On a May afternoon, two participants attended a Spring clean-up day at the Biddeford garden. One was beginning his very first day of school-mandated community service hours, while the other was on his last day after logging several months of court-mandated hours. The two teenagers had never met. Neither had worked with plants before. They didn’t know each other’s backgrounds, but that day their paths converged for a few hours to achieve a common goal: take care of this garden. They worked alongside the garden manager, Holly, while learning the history of the place. They cleared sticks and fallen branches, making a pile in the back of Holly’s truck to haul out, and they picked up trash tangled in the knotweed and strewn about the adjacent Senior Home’s parking lot. While they weeded around the raised beds, a man and his young daughter arrived to water their arugula, chives, and romaine.

After leaving that day and clocking their hours, the two youth might not return and to see that the tomato plants will grow to be as tall as they are, or again cross paths with that father and his daughter whose plot will keep their family fed — but, even if they weren’t actively aware of it, the youth quietly played a part in the story of that place. And now they know the garden is there, and that they, too, are a part of the community that it exists in.

Photo and story by Molly Haley.