Welcome to the MSGN’s School Garden of the Month. This project is made possible by Maine Ag in the Classroom’s 2016 Grant program. We will be highlighting a unique school garden each month and making visits to connect with the fantastic garden leaders in this state, talk about the awesome work they’re doing, and share models and activities with the Maine School Garden Network. To learn more or nominate a school garden of the month, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introducing another featured School Garden Coach, Erica Rudloff at Ridge View Community School!
I first encountered Erica Rudloff at a small garden club seed saving workshop at a beautiful homestead in Dexter, ME. After discussing the difference between squash and tomato seed saving processes, and then looking at tomato cross pollinating techniques, Erica humbly introduced herself as the local school garden leader at Ridge View Community School. It was not until I visited the school myself that I learned what that really meant to her and to the school.
From the Ground Up
As Erica and I walked around the back of the school, a huge GARDEN sign greeted us, inviting us over the hill. Started in 2011, the garden beyond the sign now has space for 36 3'x 6' beds, an orchard that the kindergarten class plants a tree in each year, a perennial memorial bed for the Lake Family, and 2 raised beds for kindergarten students. This is a beautiful large space, and incredibly well managed mostly by Erica herself with student help. “For the first two years, I donated at least 15 hours a week – tilling with my tiller from home, begging and soliciting for mulch, tools, and fence posts,” Erica says. This is the type of dedication that she brings to this program.
Working with Cooperative Extension
She worked hard for those two years to bring the garden to life, and worked closely with Kate Garland of the local Cooperative Extension. University of Maine Cooperative Extensions are in every county in Maine – each state has a Cooperative Extension system connected to the land-grant institution, intended to share information and results from new agricultural research – and they are fantastic resources (Visit their site here, or find them on the Maine Food Atlas).
Kate helped facilitate the relationship with FoodCorps to get a service member for three years to support Erica’s efforts. One service member obtained a grant for an outdoor classroom, which now stands ready for outdoor learning activities beside the garden. After three years, they lost funding for the position and were unable to continue to be a FoodCorps site.
“The biggest obstacle is teacher participation,” Erica says. “Teachers have a lot on their plates and it seems that they struggle enough. I feel they like the idea of it being there but do not see the potential. Perhaps they feel unqualified. ‘I have a black thumb,’ one teacher said to me.” Erica exemplifies an enthusiastic garden-savvy parent and community member as school garden leader. An avid gardener for over 25 years, Erica knows her stuff and luckily is passionate about sharing it. However, not being a part of the school staff (though she also serves on the school’s Wellness Committee) adds to the difficulty of getting teachers on board and communicating with them.
Erica, Kate, and the FoodCorps service members beautifully designed the garden so that each class could have a bed. Thirty-six beds might sound like a lot, but it is organized in nine rows, with four 3- by 6-foot beds, meaning each grade would get one row (the school is K-8). They then came up with a project that would include the whole school and bring continuity to the program – a challenge for many with the summer being in between grades – called the Legacy Project (click here for their resource). In the fall, each grade would harvest the crop given to them by the previous class in the spring. For instance, first graders harvest carrots and radishes in the fall, which they then plant in the spring for the next class of first graders. They then harvest pumpkins in the fall and plant them in the spring as second graders, and so on, leaving a legacy for the next class to reap the benefits of.
Now in their 6th year, Erica continues to lead the Garden Club, made up of 8-10 students who meet for a couple hours each week, as well as a weekly summer program. The program is actually financial sustainable through a garlic braid raffle at their Open House in the fall, and a plant sale in the spring. Produce from the garden goes to taste tests and to the students involved to take home and enjoy. Several teachers are starting to use the garden for different projects, including Sue Killam. Sue’s language arts students will do a photojournalism project with the garden, cleverly linking technology and outdoor learning. With a bed for each class, there are so many more opportunities for curriculum integration in the space.
We are SO excited to work with Erica and support her work, to advocate for more teacher involvement, continuity, and promoting her as a School Garden Coach! Stay tuned…