BELFAST — Jane Beers doesn’t mind if people are milling about in her front yard. In fact, she welcomes the company.

Beers, with the help of a group of local volunteers, has transformed her front yard into the High Street Little Free Garden that will offer free vegetables to those who wish to harvest them.

“It’s all free,” Beers said of the vegetables growing on her front lawn, “and it’s open to everyone who wants to come take what they need.”

A small chalk board alerts visitors to produce ready for harvest at Jane Beers’ Little Free Garden in Belfast. Photo by Jim Leonard

Lettuce, onions, kale, chard, and peppers are just a few items planted in front of Beer’s house. A sign in front of the yard details what items are ready for harvest.

Beers got the idea for the garden from a flyer outlining the benefits of permaculture and urban gardening left at her home by Teddy Mattson of Dirt Goat Permaculture.

“This past winter I would go jogging around town,” Mattson said, “and I’d see a place that was good for (an urban garden) and drop off a flyer.”

The High Street Little Free Garden covers what formerly was Jane Beers’ front lawn. Photo by Jim Leonard

Urban gardening is defined by Google as “the process of growing plants in an urban environment.”  Most urban gardens include a variety of edible plants similar to those Beers has planted currently.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” Beers said, “if more people would try doing this.”

According to Mattson, more people are. “It’s a trend that is rising in Waldo County,” Mattson said. Most of the community and urban gardens in the area feature edible plants, he noted.

Mattson hosts a podcast through his business detailing various aspects of permaculture and urban gardening. He also sends out messages, or “perma-blasts,” to an email group.

“It’s kind of my way of collaborating with other people,” Mattson said. “There’s more demand for projects like these than I can handle myself. The perma-blast gets a group together to share the work on a project and, hopefully, learn how to do it themselves.”

In early April, Mattson showed up at Beers’ home with 17 volunteers and installed the garden in one day.

“It was fun,” Beers said. “We got the garden done in one day. A few people brought banjos, played music and we had a bonfire.”

Benefits of urban gardening include tapping into local food trends, creating productive edible landscapes, promoting healthy communities, and reducing the need for and environmental impact of large agricultural operations.

“The population density of an area like this is ideal to grow (a lot) of local food this way,” Mattson said.

Mattson was impressed with Beer’s willingness to try her hand at urban gardening.

“She’s super cool,” Mattson said of Beers. “She’s a very giving spirit who wants to get people together and take care of them.”

Beers moved to Maine from Indiana four years ago with a background in nonprofits and hospice care. After settling in Belfast three years ago, she looked for ways to help in the community and the COVID pandemic provided her with an opportunity.

“I have a lot of people that walk by my house,” she said. “Last summer I put some chairs outside to allow people a chance to sit, rest and talk in a place that is outside and safe.”

The chairs remain and provide a complete view of the High Street Little Free Garden. In the near future, Beers will add another feature to her yard.

“I’m going to put in a library box” Beer said. “I’ll leave some books about gardening that people can take, or they can leave a book if they want.”

The Little Free Garden provides tools for those who want to work in the garden. Photo by Jim Leonard

Once the garden was finished, Beers did all the planting and is currently working the space on her own. She has left a box of gardening tools in the front yard for those who wish to work, weed or harvest.

For now, Beers looks forward to seeing community members in her garden while enjoying an unexpected benefit.

“I’ve got a lot less lawn to mow,” she said.