Person of the Week
In Many Ways, Cain Contributes to Sustainable Living in Guilford
Terri Cain is now in her 12th year managing all-volunteer, non-profit Guilford Community Garden HUB, which she helped co-found in 2009, and has been chairing the Sustainable Guilford Task Force since it was established by the Board of Selectmen in 2018. (File photo by Richard Esposito/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
When Terri Cain volunteered to co-found and manage Guilford Community Garden HUB (GCGHUB), one of her hopes was to help inspire others in the community to embrace some sustainable practices. Seems like Guilford was listening, and Terri is still very willing to help. She’s now in her 12th year managing GCGHUB and has also chaired Sustainable Guilford Task Force since it was established by the Board of Selectmen in 2018.
Growing Guilford Community Garden HUB
Founded in 2009, all-volunteer non-profit GCGHUB makes its seasonal home within a fenced-in parcel of about one acre at Guilford Keeping Society’s Medad Stone Tavern property. It took about two years to revitalize the land and to design and build the site, which opened to its first gardeners in 2011.
The garden’s 20 community member plots (always snapped up by March) require gardeners who also pledge to volunteer to assist GCGHUB with projects, such as maintaining 10 plots dedicated to providing organic produce to Guilford Food Bank and Community Dining Room to help curb local food insecurity. In fact, GCGHUB was created with several core principles in mind, says Terri, including youth involvement, health of the environment, education, and community-building.
“Youth involvement means learning to grow your own food and interacting with all generations, and the garden is a perfect place to do that,” says Terri, a UConn master gardener and master composter. “Health of the environment is also an important principle, because that sense of sustainability and care for the soil was really important to us. Education—we’ve done that, especially through our 2nd grade program at Cox, which has been going on for so many years.
“And then the other is community-building,” she notes. “I think it’s one of the things that makes me so excited, because the community garden can’t take place without the community. Especially our garden, because nobody is paid. It all depends on volunteers. So that’s why it’s so exciting to see when we get volunteers from all age groups coming together, being in the garden, and working on communal projects.”
Right now, the garden is gearing up for several projects in need of volunteer support. Anyone interested in helping out is encouraged to email Terri at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more by following Guilford Community Garden HUB on Facebook and Instagram.
“We have several big exciting projects this year,” says Terri. “One of them is, now that the [food donation] beds are 10 years old and are not treated, because they’re all organic, they’re beginning to deteriorate. So we’re starting to rebuild all of those beds, and that’s huge.”
Terri also takes a moment to note that, just last week, the garden took delivery of 20 yards of nurturing soil for the project, donated by WeCare Denali, a landscape and compost company in Farmington.
“WeCare Denali has donated to us twice now, which is amazing. So that’s really allowed us to help the Food Bank Garden,” says Terri.
Last fall, WeCare Denali contributed soil for GCGHUB’s Children’s Garden rebuild, while lumber for the construction of the garden was donated by Ring’s End of Madison and Branford.
Another project coming to GCGHUB this season is rebuilding the pollinator gardens, which have thrived in years past.
“We’re making them more formal, and one reason is because invasives like mugwort and multiflora roses have come into our field portion of the garden, which was kept just as a meadow to attract and nurture and provide homes for invertebrates,” says Terri.
The plan is to install some 90 to 100 donated native plants in the meadow, which is also fenced in as part of the GCGHUB. While access to the garden is not public and only allowed to volunteers and garden members, GCGHUB’s fence is there for another important reason: to keep deer out.
“The fence is our third big project. Initially, in 2010, we put a deer fence around the entire garden, because you can’t grow in Guilford without deer fence,” says Terri. “But it’s been 10 years, and the past two storms have brought trees down on it. So one of the big projects we have to get done this year is put up fence, and we will need a lot of volunteers for that.”
The garden also is seeking donations of garden hoses to help water reach all areas of the site. Terri takes a moment to especially thank Canestri Plumbing & Heating of Guilford for volunteering, since the start of GCGHUB, to maintain the garden’s water lines. There are many others to thank, including Guilford Foundation for its grant support, as well as recent assistance provided by Guilford High School InterAct, a club advised by Guilford Rotary.
“There’s a lot of energy supporting this garden,” says Terri. “I’ve had kids volunteer...Some real little ones, like preschoolers, come in and help me fill the beds for the new Children’s Garden, all the way up to all grades. I’ve got college students that are volunteering, and of course community members volunteer as well. So that’s the social aspect, and the health that comes from that social space, for people to be able to get out into nature and to gather and being with nature. It’s a place that people find they just really like to go and be, and take some time off from computers and technology and everything else.”
Recognizing that the community garden plots go fast each year, Terri says there may be some way in the future that a few more plots could be added to accommodate more interested community gardeners. But for those who would like to try their hand at this type of sustainable gardening in their own backyard, GCGHUB is there to help with several programs.
“The other part of what we do there is the environment and sustainability, and modeling what that would look like in a yard that works for nature that humans can also use, too, without disturbing nature,” says Terri. “That was one of our goals from the beginning, and we’re very excited to have achieved that. We’re a monarch [butterfly] way station with the Monarch Watch Society—we’ve had them raising milkweed since day one, back in 2010. We’re a pollinator habitat with the Xerces Society to preserve all invertebrates, and of course we’re a member of the Pollinator Pathway.”
GCGHUB will be part of community-organized Pollinator Pathways of Guilford and Branford’s June 26 “Pollinator Garden Tour” (maps and information available at Pollinator Pathways of Guilford and Branford on Facebook).
“There are many people who are working on that Pollinator Pathway,” says Terri. “They have been giving talks at the library as well. We’ve been giving workshops as part of our education program through the library for many years. My big thing is composting. It’s something that I really love.”
The benefits of composting are many, from lowering your carbon footprint, to reducing food waste and saving money for you and your town (because composting’s main component, food waste, is better used as compost fodder than adding to the town’s costs to haul away and incinerate heavy, wet food waste). As Terri notes, in a typical household, approximately 25 percent of household waste, including food scraps, can be diverted from landfills and composted right in your backyard.
Terri’s love and knowledge of composting recently tied into her volunteer work as the chair of the Sustainable Guilford Task Force, which is currently teaming up with the South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG) to offer discounted prices on composters, rain barrels, and accessories for residents. Orders placed through Wednesday, April 21 can be picked up in the parking lot behind Town Hall, 31 Park Street, on Sunday, April 25. For more information, visit scrcogcompostersale.company.site
“It’s a really great sale,” says Terri, putting on her Sustainable Guilford hat. “We really do have to reduce our waste, so composting is one of the best ways to do that as a homeowner. That’s why we’re really trying to help push residents to get bins; because it’s so easy to do.”
Terri also invites residents to visit the Town of Guilford website www.ci.guilford.ct.us, where she’s posted a video on how to compost.
In 2018, Terri was tapped by Guilford’s selectmen to serve on the new Sustainable Guilford Task Force, an advisory board that she has chaired since its inception. The advisory group quickly reached its first milestone, earning the Town of Guilford’s certification in the Sustainable CT Program.
“Our first goal was to get the town certified with Sustainable CT, and that happened in 2019,” says Terri. “We received a Silver Certification. That’s excellent, because the first level is bronze, and the second level is silver. So we got it up to a Silver Certification from the start.”
The task force is also charged with researching, building support, and making recommendations to develop sustainable programs for the town and community members.
“We’ve developed the Heat Smart Initiative, the Pollinator Pathway initiative, and programs for compost and waste reduction, which is mandated in Connecticut,” says Terri.
Terri also manages the Guilford Sustainability Task Force Facebook page and is excited to note the task force’s new website, which she is building, is nearly ready to launch as a great community resource.
“We’re hoping launch near Earth Day, April 22,” says Terri.
In addition to trying to hit the mark of launching the new website on or about Earth Day, Terri jokes, “it has to be done—I need to be in the garden with my hands in the dirt, not looking at a computer!”
A Guilford resident since 1996, Terri has dedicated many years to developing the gardens at her home just around the corner from GCGHUB.
“We have our own family garden that’s huge. It’s orchard trees and raspberries and tons and tons of garlic, and all sorts of self-sustainables. I do a lot of potatoes—that’s one of my favorite crops. We basically eat from our garden,” says Terri.
Year-round, Terri’s work as a certified yoga instructor also keeps her busy (and helps keep her limber for all of that gardening work).
“Teaching yoga, that’s my main job, and it’s all on Zoom now, as you can imagine,” says Terri. “I still do about 10 classes a week. It’s not as many as when we were in person, but it’s still a lot.”
As soon at GCGHUB opens for the season, Terri is at the site, daily. The garden opened on the first day of spring.
“I check in every day at the garden,” says Terri, recounting one of her favorite experiences there.
“One day, I found a great horned owl in the garden,” she says of the early-morning encounter in 2014.
Terri found the owl, which at first appeared to be a ball of feathers, looking up at her from the ground in an open space in the Children’s Garden area. When it didn’t attempt to fly or get away, she called wildlife rescuers from A Place Called Hope in Killingworth. The group determined the owl had likely become ill after ingesting a rodent that had been poisoned. Following its rehabilitation, Terri was invited to set the healthy owl free.
“That was one my best life experiences, to find that owl and have it rehabilitated, and have it sitting on my hand and looking at me. It’s like it said ‘Thank you,’ before it flew off,” says Terri.
A Michigan native, Terri started volunteering as a teenager. After graduating from high school, she spent a summer working for OxFam in London and gave her time to groups including the Sierra Club, Easter Seals, and the Red Cross. Many in this community have thanked Terri for her contributions of time and talent throughout the years.
In addition to her service with GCGHUB and Sustainable Guilford, she is a former director of the Pilgrim Fellowship at First Congregational Church in Guilford, served on the Guilford Community Television board, has been a vice president of the Guilford High School Theatre Arts Parents group, and a member of GHS Connections among other efforts to contribute to her community. Terri has also been recognized for her exceptional community service as a recipient of Shore Publishing’s Beacon Award in 2013.
“Volunteering—I love it. I absolutely love it,” says Terri. “We all love sharing our passions. The soil and the environment and nature and gardening are my passions, and I love sharing it with everyone.”