A transformative gift received by Unity College is poised to enhance teaching, research, entrepreneurship, experiential learning and programs in sustainable agriculture.
During the Fall of 2013, Isabel McKay and Rick Thompson of Brooks gifted Unity College with Half Moon Gardens of Thorndike, a multifaceted greenhouse operation. The property comes with five years of financial support.
Unity College is known as America’s Environmental College in part for its leading-edge approach to experiential learning that features a first-in-the-nation focus on sustainability science.
“The entire Unity College community has been energized by this generous gift by Isabel McKay and Rick Thompson,” noted Stephen Mulkey, President of Unity College. “The possibilities to enrich every aspect of our community are varied. Unity College seeks to become a world-class institution and this gift will help us achieve our aspirations in service to an exemplary environmental mission.”
Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, Executive Vice President and Liaison to the Board, sees the gift as an act of generosity that will live in perpetuity.
“Who knows what kind of invention that transforms agriculture in the developing world will be discovered, or which student will extend a research project all the way from idea to the marketplace? How many jobs will be created as a result of this gift?” Khoury said. “Isabel McKay and Rick Thompson have expressed their strong environmental values through this gift. It will be honored each day by students, faculty, staff and others who will benefit from the lessons, research, and innovation made possible by Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Research Station.”
Dr. Michael Evans, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, praised the location and the positive impact that the entire endeavor will have on the College.
“Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Research Station is just up the road and in a beautiful location for our students and faculty to work together,” Evans said. “One of the really exciting things about the research station is that it gives our students the opportunity to understand and appreciate the commercial side of agriculture.”
Since receiving the gift, officials at Unity College have been transforming the facility to support research, entrepreneurship, community outreach and scholarship, and have hired its first Director.
Mary Saunders Bulan, Ph.D., has been named Director of the Half Moon Gardens and the McKay Agricultural Research Station. She will also serve as an Assistant Professor of Sustainable Agricultural Enterprise at Unity College.
Bulan possesses broad experience in sustainable farming, value-added enterprise, research, teaching, and learning. She has served as a volunteer on biodynamic farms and specialty produce operations in British Columbia, was coordinator for a non-profit farm project in Rhode Island, and has overseen Community Supported Agriculture membership, and greenhouse / field production.
She holds a Ph.D. in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a B.S. in International Relations from Brown University. A business plan for use and management of the complex has been created. The plan calls for the facility to serve the College in a number of ways.
Dr. Steve Kahl, Director of Sustainability at Unity College, is serving as interim director until July 1. He will continue to focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy systems for the greenhouses to make them more cost-effective for Unity and partners.
Half Moon Gardens will be maintained as a commercial operation that provides products for the retail and wholesale markets, thereby creating opportunities for students to learn the business, financial, and customer-service skills needed to operate their own businesses. The McKay Agricultural Research Station is part of the Half Moon Gardens complex. The research station will contribute to research, outreach, and teaching.
Officials at the College feel the complex will provide an economic spark for the local economy that is centered in the Unity region with partners already interested in collaborating at the Research Station including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Maine Farmland Trust, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, FedCo, and the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society.
“The McKay Agricultural Research Station, in particular, will serve as an incubator for the local foods economy,” Kahl said. “There is already an active partnership with Maine Farmland Trust concerning several current and potential projects.”
In addition to serving as source of local foods for the College and regional customers, providing produce or other products for retail sale, it will also function as a resource for classes in sustainable agriculture business management in partnership with Thomas College.
Unity College will also conduct outreach and research in the newly named McKay Agricultural Research Station. “Research will include agricultural and alternative energy solutions for rural communities,” Kahl said.
An essential goal for the Half Moon Gardens business plan is fiscal sustainability as a college-wide resource. The gift by Isabel McKay and Rick Thompson provides a five year period of operational subsidy during which time the College will implement an entrepreneurial, sustainable business model.