Maine Raised Gardens aims to make gardening accessible in any space
WINDSOR — As gardening in small spaces grows increasingly popular — and options increasingly diverse — Steve Rodrigue of Maine Raised Gardens started his company to help many would-be gardeners get started by offering a complement of services from the installation of raised beds to maintenance if a client so desires.
A 2010 graduate of the University of Maine, Rodrigue holds a B.S. in landscape horticulture with a concentration in design. Before starting Maine Raised Gardens in 2017, Rodrigue worked in Research and Development at Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion that took him all over the world in a quest to find and evaluate varieties of vegetable seeds that the company might add to their inventory.
"I was looking for a change," Rodrigue explained, describing his decision to move on from Johnny's. After constructing his own small, off-grid home on his rural 30-acre property with the help of a childhood friend, Rodrigue realized that installing and consulting about gardening would be his next venture.
He explained that he had worked with another friend that was living in Seattle where there are companies assisting with the creation of garden space in residential neighborhoods.
"Nobody in Maine was doing that," he said, "I thought, 'why not start it here? There is a lot of emphasis on small farms, but people can have a huge impact with a small, intensive garden," he said."
He added that the only crop that he would immediately steer clear of for raised bed gardening is corn due to its size and pollination requirements. Because corn is wind pollinated, Rodrigue explained that growing a block of corn allows for proper pollination but is not ideal for a raised bed.
"You would have to plant a lot of beds with just corn for a successful crop," he stated. Otherwise most crops thrive in raised beds. He added that his customers are generally amazed by the high production yield that is possible with just a few raised bed gardens.
Rodrigue said that the company reflects his own vision of "edible landscapes" that are both beautiful and nourishing.
Rodrigue's initial jobs have come through referrals from his extensive list of contacts, but he added that social media, including Facebook and Instagram as well as his website have been helpful tools. Rodrigue said Instagram has been a particularly good way to showcase his work, and a professionally designed brochure outlines the details of his services. He said he has given a presentation in Belfast about Maine Raised Gardens, and is presently working on setting up similar presentations company in Camden and Rockland.
Rodrigue said that despite the fact that he lives in Windsor, his customers are largely in the Camden and Rockland area. He travels as far as southern Maine, but typically works in the Midcoast region.
Doing business as Maine Raised Gardens, Rodrigue offers several popular options for the layout of raised beds, but also builds and designs backyard gardens to suit his client's properties and personal aesthetic. Rodrigue's background allows him to offer additional services including garden maintenance and harvesting.
"I work with both residential and commercial clients. I've done projects in Whitefield, Lincolnville, Hallowell and Rockland to name a few. I'm trying to focus on the Midcoast, but not limiting my reach," he explained.
His connection to the Midcoast comes through his friend Evan Frace who owns Greener Grounds Landscaping in Owls Head. He said their friendship and mutual respect for one other professionally makes collaboration a natural fit.
In March 2018 Rodrigue already had a number of jobs lined up for the approaching season, orders that he said would total in the neighborhood of 14 beds. Rodrigue said the standard size of a raised bed that he produces is about 4' by 8,' a size that tends to be both adequate for production and user friendly.
"With that size a gardener can reach the center of the bed from either side," he explained.
This spring, Rodrigue was busily working to form partnerships with businesses to construct demonstration beds. Including beds at Heiwa Tofu in Rockport and at the South School in Rockland.
In mid-April Rodrigue partnered with Portland-based curbside composting service Garbage to Garden to present Think Spring! Let's Get Growing: a talk and discussion on the basics of organic gardening.
As Rodrigue develops the Maine Raised Garden business model he said he is constantly assessing. In these early years, he said that he sometimes pre-builds beds for a job at home, but typically constructs them onsite. He also offers the requisite landscaping to go with the gardens he installs, and said he often creates paths for aesthetic and ease of access at the commission of a client.
Rodrigue said his goal is twofold: to provide people with the ability to grow their own food with ease on any property, and creating his raised beds in a way that is as sustainable as possible. His flexible service model also gives a nod to offering tailored products suited to each client's comfort level and goals.
"I want to be as simple and small scale as possible. I use the smallest equipment possible to lessen the carbon footprint. '" He explained.
Rodrigue said he is eager to see what his second season in business brings, and that he foresees his season extending through November.
In 2017, he said that he made Christmas wreaths for extra income after the gardening season ended. This year, he plans to do a business assessment and hopes to continue to broaden his knowledge this winter with a WWOOFing experience that would allow him to live and work on an operating farm.
Rodrigue becomes animated when talking about the possibilities for the future of his company. He explained that he would love to offer services including a rooftop garden service, in the future.
"No job has been the same, and that's been really cool," he said.
Jenna Lookner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org