August 6, 2020
Ian and Kristen Toal are very connected to where food comes from. One summer during college, Kristen worked in northern California on an organic farms and loved the experience. Ian had done an internship on a farm in New Hampshire and travelled cross country to work on organic farms and homesteads. Ian and Kristen met in 2013 during a meeting for the Winter Cache Project, held at the Resilience Hub in Portland. The co-operative farm grows and harvests crops and all those who participated would meet to share the food they grew once a month during the winter. Ian and Kristen’s shared interest in permaculture and regenerative farming brought them together.
When they bought their home. Ian and Kristen started their own gardens right away. While their crops flourished, Kristen maintained her ties to Portland and a project she had started in 2014, Mt. Joy Orchard. Mt. Joy is a free to pick, public orchard, providing a creative social space while demonstrating the use of sustainable agricultural practices. They worked with the city of Portland to convert one of the city's public parks and have grown from a few trees to a 13,000 square foot food forest that has many native plants, perennial food crops, and fruit and nut trees.
This past spring, Mt. Joy started working with a Portland group, Presente Maine. Presente started as a small non-profit that addresses the empowerment and integration of the immigrant community in Maine through education, community organizing, civic participation, services and direct support. Part of that direct support has grown to include feeding families that have been hardest hit by the effects of the pandemic.
Presente approached Mt. Joy and asked if they could grow food at the orchard. With a bit of prep work, Presente and Mt. Joy built many raised beds and planted food crops that will help to feed those people most in need and establish some local food security. They are also growing on a local farm that donated 3/4 of an acre in Cumberland. In April, they were feeding 600 families. Now they are feeding over 6,000 people in the Portland area.
Kristen and Ian feel very fortunate that they have two large greenhouses, a lot of seeds and the time now to plant a lot of extra food. “We responded, as well as a lot of other people,” said Ian, “with the offer of food, plants, seeds and land for people to grow their own food, or who need extra help during this time. Kristen and I are grateful that we can offer help. We continue to grow extra food and donate plants, materials and time. Mt. Joy continues to grow and expand the orchard, while educating the community on what plants are growing there and how the community can be involved.”