College-farm partnership aims to add jobs, alleviate hunger

Unity College-owned Half Moon Gardens will provide seedlings to boost community agriculture program

THORNDIKE, Maine – A Portland nonprofit organization has contracted Unity College to supply seedlings for a Community Supported Agriculture project that will employ people and feed the hungry with fresh, locally grown food.

Over the next couple of months, students in the sustainable agriculture program at Unity will grow seedlings for Cultivating Community, a Portland-based nonprofit organization that operates an incubator farm for immigrant and refugee farmers establishing farm businesses in Maine. The seedlings will then be planted on a diversified vegetable farm serving CSA, wholesale, and direct markets in Lisbon, Maine.

Unity College was gifted Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Research Station in Thorndike, a multi-faceted greenhouse operation, in December 2013. The facility serves as a direct extension of the 225-acre campus and provides the campus community with unique educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in sustainable agriculture.

The facility, along with five years of financial support, was given by Isabel McKay and Rick Thompson, the second largest cash gift donation in the college’s history.

Assistant Professor of Sustainable Agricultural Enterprise Dr. Mary Saunders Bulan said Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Research Station is being developed as a center for innovative projects and research aimed at overcoming challenges faced by rural agricultural enterprises in New England — including energy costs, compensation for agricultural workers, climate challenges, and sparse population.

“Half Moon Gardens is helping Unity College develop and model replicable solutions for environmental challenges and creating a marketplace presence to serve the community,” said Bulan, who serves as director of the facility. “Through projects and partnerships such as this one with Cultivating Community, students learn invaluable business management and administrative skills to operate a successful agricultural business, while providing the community with healthful foods and meaningful work.”

Founded in 2001, Cultivating Community creates and sustains greater access to healthful local foods; empowers people to play many roles in restoring the local, sustainable food system; and models, teaches, and advocates for ecological food production. Its New American Sustainable Agriculture Project is a nationally recognized leader in working to support new immigrants who desire to use their rich agricultural heritages to grow farm businesses in their new home, and has been featured in The New Yorker, Christian Science Monitor, and Modern Farmer magazine.

VIDEO: Video by Unity College Student Michelle Plance video shows Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Research Station in Thorndike, Maine. The agricultural research station provides an excellent space for sustainable agriculture research and is the newest addition to Unity College. 

About Unity College
Unity College proudly celebrates its 50th year in 2015. The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors. For more information, visit


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