In warmly-lit room filled with the smell of chicken pot pies, over 100 people sat around circular tables. At a little past five o’clock, a feast that would rival Thanksgiving was unveiled.

It was Long Islands’ third annual Harvest Fest Dinner, a free meal for any islander to celebrate a successful year of gardening. The November 15th event was planned by the Long Island’s Community Garden Organization. “It’s our way of giving back to the community,” said Penny Murley, co-founder of the community garden and contributing organizer of the event. “They’ve been so supportive.”

While it was too late in the season to have a menu consisting entirely of island-grown food, Murley said, gardeners prepared all of the dishes. And, despite recent wintry temperatures, some fall vegetables did make guest appearances: squash soup, parsley garnish and cabbage cole slaw.

The event was free, but prizes donated by islanders were raffled off. Murley said the garden raised quite a bit of money.  “What impresses me the most is how generous people are out here,” said Murley. “Even in a tough economic time…people feel compelled to help one another.”

Lisa Whelan, co-founder of the garden, said that her motivation to initiate the project was to do just that-help neighbors to cultivate their own plots.

“My interest was to teach people how to grow food,” Whelan said.

Whelan’s ambition is one that has been echoing around island communities-gardening as a solution to rising prices of food. Small-scale commercial farms are now on Chebeague, North Haven, Vinalhaven and Islesford.

Four years ago, Whelan and Murley, with assistance from other Long Island residents, obtained a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to develop town land into what is now the Long Island Community Garden-32 individual plots filled each summer with vegetables and flowers.  Soil-filled wooden boxes cover each plot, all of which are surrounded by a metal fence to keep out persistent deer.

“People are wanting to grow their own food,” said Murley. They want to not have to “rush into town every time they want a fresh tomato.”

“People will think about sustainability,” Whelan said. “As the food prices grow up.”

And while there is a lot of emphasis on the garden’s produce, both Murley and Whelan believe that there are other benefits to having a community plot.

It’s a source of pride for the town,” Murley said. “There isn’t one person in the summer who doesn’t walk, bike, or ride by who doesn’t stop and look.”

Whelan said she believes that gardening is not only a useful activity but also a relaxing one. “Gardening should be casual,” she said. “Stress-free; not a chore.”

Although the Harvest Fest is a large Community Garden event, it is not only one. This past summer there was a garden party and a garden tour, which included 12 other Long Island gardens.

The garden provides “an opportunity for people to gather,” Murley said.

So while people left the Long Island VFW hall with bellies full of home-made rolls and pecan pie, the gardeners left with a sense of gratitude – for the sense of community they’ve cultivated and the independence they’ve made possible.