December 2004 Newsletter

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The Cycle of Life in a Garden

Maine school gardeners are saddened to learn of the death, in November, of Anne S. Johnson, the founder of the Maine School Garden Network. A dietitian, educator, and dedicated organic gardener, Anne co-founded the Orono Farmer’s Market and was an active member of the education committee of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).

The seed of an idea for the Maine School Garden Network, like the seeds of most enduring plants, took quite a long time to germinate. In Spring, 2002, Anne challenged a group of UMaine graduate students to create a school garden and agriculture curriculum for the many teachers and students hungry to learn more about where their food comes from. That summer, as the draft curriculum was being readied for pilot testing, Anne assembled the first small gathering of school gardeners to discuss the value of sharing ideas and experiences. A brochure with tips, resources, and contact people was the product of that meeting.

The MSGN idea took deeper root in spring of 2003, when Anne authored “Maine: A Place to Grow,” a series of articles on Maine agriculture for the Bangor Daily News, Newspapers in Education program. As a part of the project, Anne began to inventory the school and community gardens around the state where children and adults were learning healthy lessons together. Between spring and that fall’s first conference of the MSGN, the mailing list swelled from 40 to more than 100 school and community gardeners.

Now, the idea that Anne planted is beginning to bear fruit. The curriculum she inspired in 2002, “You Are What You Eat,” is about to go to press. Anne’s series of articles, “Maine: A Place to Grow,” is being re-released in book, CD-ROM, and online versions. The fourth MSGN conference is coming up. Most importantly, the Network she nurtured has blossomed to over 400 members, all dedicated to gardens as healthy places to learn and grow.

Let’s Keep Growing: Spring Conference Scheduled for Saturday, April 2, 2005

Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, Maine will be the site of the Spring conference of the Maine School Garden Network, to be held Saturday, April 2, from 8:30 to 3:30. As at prior gatherings, there will be interactive workshop sessions, a catered lunch, and networking opportunities.

Maine’s schools are using gardens and greenspaces to inspire learning in many exciting ways. Learn from colleagues and share your experiences as you enjoy interactive workshops, networking roundtables, and a plenary session with Maine’s First Lady, Karen Baldacci. After a vegetarian lunch, participants will meet with members of the Medomak Valley HS community to learn about Maine’s heirloom seed operation.

The featured tour for this spring’s meeting (by popular demand!) will take participants through the Medomak Valley High School’s Heirloom Seed production and marketing operation. Neil Lash and Jon Thurston will share stories of the traditional varieties that their students cultivate and sell, and demonstrate ways that the project integrates with school and community life, and contributes to the botanical heritage of our state and our nation. They’re planning to serve some greens from their greenhouse, and we might even cook up some johnny cake from the special corn variety that Neil has been studying.

Also on the agenda for the day are workshop sessions on Portland’s successful “Cultivating Communities” project; the Maine Apprentice Gardeners (a youth gardening curriculum project linked with the Maine Master Gardeners program); school composting; the relationship of new dietary guidelines to school gardens, and much more. Maine’s First Lady, Karen Baldacci (a teacher, child nutrition advocate, and avid organic gardener) will be addressing the group in an informal lunchtime presentation.

The conference registration fee is $25.00, which includes a catered vegetarian lunch and materials packet. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are available to participating educators for an additional fee of $5.00. For more information, contact Mary Bird at 207-5812434, or e-mailmary.bird@umit.maine.edu.

Sage and Savory

In this advice column, we’ll try to answer v your school gardening questions, and share tips from experienced gardeners.

Dear Sage & Savory,
Our students will be starting seeds and setting plants out in the garden before the school year ends, and they ‘ll be back to enjoy the harvest, come fall. How can we care for and protect our school garden during the intervening summer months?
Eager but Inexperienced

Dear Eager,

Members of the MSGN have used a variety of strategies to keep their gardens productive and safe during summer’s intensive gardening season. It’s important to remember that, no matter how many summer garden helpers you have, you will need to commit at least some of your own vacation time to training, monitoring and supervising garden activities. Be sure to have a chore checklist for helpers, and consider hosting a spring Garden Fun Festival to train them, if necessary. Here are other tips from successful school gardeners:

Get families involved during the planning and planting phase, so they feel invested in the project. Just as families sign up to take a turn caring for classroom pets during summer, they can also join the roster to tend the garden for a week.
Enlist the help of Master Gardeners through your county’s Cooperative Extension office. Master Gardeners are required to participate in service activities, and might be willing to help you and your students year-round.
Local garden clubs, scout troops, church or service groups are often willing and eager to get involved, and day care or recreation programs might love to incorporate gardening into their summer activities. Including these community members as summer helpers lets them share in a lively learning experience.
If your school links children with elders through a cross-generational oral history or other academic project, consider extending the relationship to the summer garden. Many seniors are experienced, able gardeners!
Some local businesses provide release time for community service. An hour or two away from the office can be fun and refreshing, and contribute a lot to the garden’s success.
Many high schools have a community service requirement for students, and in some cases, this may be completed during summer months. Contact area high schools now to find out if they have service fairs to facilitate volunteer recruiting.
Make friends with your neighbors. Nearby homeowners might not be able to care for crops, but they do keep an eye on the area and will be alert to mischief.
Harvest of Learning at Autumn ’04 MSGN Workshop

More than 60 educators, child health and nutrition advocates, and agriculture specialists convened at Troy Howard Middle School on October 16, 2004 to share exciting garden projects and discover new strategies for successful garden learning. Kathy Flecky and colleagues from Husson College demonstrated ways to make gardens accessible for learners with disabilities. Drew Sachs presented the planning and design processes being used for Brewer’s new children’s garden. Eli Kaufman of “Restoring Our Seed” and Jon Thurston of Medomak Valley High School both offered sessions on heritage seeds, with Eli emphasizing curriculum connections, and Jon the varieties and seed saving techniques.

You could have heard a pin drop during author Sharon Lovejoy’s inspiring address on the lifelong joy of gardening with children. Steven Tanguay of Troy Howard Middle School followed up with proof of the power of garden learning, in his presentation on THMS’s nationally recognized integrated garden curriculum. Then it was out to the garden and greenhouse with Don White, to see firsthand the living laboratory where so many children are learning about themselves, their food, and their planet. By the end of the day, we were all full of ideas to keep us warm until planting time comes around again!

What’s going on in your garden?

The Maine School Garden Network is updating its database and creating a comprehensive directory that will be available online and in print. We’d like to include descriptions of the various garden and related projects undertaken by our members. Won’t you please take a moment to e-mail us with a brief description of your program, and the name, e-mail, and phone number of a contact person? It’ll help us improve networking opportunities for all! Send to mary.bird@umit.maine.edu.