By Kathy Knotts
For the third consecutive year, Keep Maryland Beautiful has awarded a grant to Project Spudnik to continue its work in its Master Gardener-sponsored program at All Saints Episcopal Church, Sunderland. Inspired by the improbable garden Matt Damon grows in the movie The Martian, Project Spudnik teaches teens to live sustainably through gardening.
“Volunteering for Spudnik has helped me grow (pun intended) not only in gardening but with living as a person,” said Evelyn McCauley, 12, of Sunderland. “Before I started, I was mostly chilling and playing all day on the computer, then I started Spudnik. It changed everything; I really enjoy going outside, playing around, but also growing things. Every year we grow more and more food for people who can’t get it from the store. I really think that it has helped me grow as a person.” For the last two years, McCauley has raised the most potatoes by weight of all volunteers.
To qualify for the Clean Up & Green Up Maryland Grant, Project Spudnik will utilize the $5,000 grant for projects, including materials and equipment needed this year to beautify and sustain the main vegetable, children’s, herb and pollinator gardens. The gardens are used for teaching children, youth and adult volunteers environmentally sustainable container gardening, as well as producing vegetables for donation to local food pantries. Last year they donated over 635 pounds of produce.
Fortunately, lots of volunteers helped get the 2020 garden started before the pandemic lockdowns began. For the rest of the growing season, just three families kept the garden flourishing, while staying physically distanced.
The projects are specifically aimed at getting young people involved in. Teen volunteers from Huntingtown High School donate their time in the gardens. Connor Hoffman noted, “Spudnik is a great opportunity to help out in the community while having fun with friends.” Joey Williams, who designed the Spudnik logo, said, “It allows me to socialize while helping the environment.” Caydin Edelman agrees that “Spudnik is a great way to meet with friends and relieve stress.”
Ryan Dickson-Burke is the teen president and primary recruiter for teen volunteers, as well as key in planning and organizing the work in the gardens. Master Gardener Sherrill Munn is the technical advisor. Other board members include Paul Dickson and Mary Ann Munn.
Four Keep Maryland Beautiful grants are awarded annually by The Maryland Environmental Trust in partnership with the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Forever Maryland Foundation. Grants through this program help volunteer-based, nonprofit groups, communities and land trusts in Maryland support environmental education projects, litter removal, citizen stewardship, as well as protect natural resources in urban and rural areas.