EUSTIS – Stratton School has expanded the garden program to include a grow dome, allowing the program to run through all but the coldest months.
“I think the growing dome is more of a symbol of the change that has been happening in Stratton School for the past ten years,” said Katie Wuori, a sixth grade teacher who is involved extensively with the garden program. “It represents how the community has embraced the culture of healthy living choices and commitment to the sustainability of healthy living and understand food culture. The dome has expanded the growing season to a ten-month year, providing fresh produce to the school food program and the food bank. Children who understand what and where food comes from and how to grow it themselves will be advocates for their health in the future.”
When students return to school in the next couple weeks, there will be produce ready to be harvest, processed, stored, and eaten. The whole school joins in with different grades assigned different tasks appropriate to their skills and abilities.
To celebrate the harvest, the students prepare a potluck dinner made with local ingredients, including the produce from the school gardens. Much of the produce goes directly to students through the school kitchen or distribution to families and the local food pantry.
Through the winter, Stratton School collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on various educational programs such as Cooking Matters, Food of the Month, and other farm-to-school programs. By February, the middle school will begin planning the theme, menus, and crops for their Harvest Fest dinner in the fall.
In the spring, all classes plant seeds for both the school gardens and for their own gardens at home. In late spring, as the school year winds down, the students will transplant seedlings, direct sow other varieties, and sell leftover seedlings.
“Every single student and staff has the opportunity to get their hands dirty planting seeds in the spring, transplanting early summer, taking care of the garden, harvesting, cooking, and eating,” Wuori said.
Each grade has different responsibilities and push-in curriculum opportunities for cross-curricular hands-on learning.
Summer vacation means students are out of school when the gardens require the most care. In the past, school staff and Stratton families have taken on the task of overseeing and caring for the gardens. Additions such as an automatic watering system have made the chores easier. For this year and four or five years in the future, the school has hired Erin Greatorex with the FoodCorps to provide farm-to-school support and connection. Greatorex grew up in Scarborough Maine and traveled to Sugarloaf for skiing, so she is looking forward to being back in the area.
“FoodCorps works to increase knowledge of and improve attitudes towards healthy foods, and we strive to promote a broader school culture that celebrates healthy and culturally relevant foods! I am energized by the enthusiasm of the staff and community partners of the garden, and I am thrilled to dive into the work. This is an inspiring time to be doing this work here, and I am looking forward to connecting with adults and students alike in the community,” Greatorex said.
“The goal of the garden program is to provide a sustainable, alternative food experience for students and faculty that encourages hands-on learning, health, and well-being at Eustis School,” Wuori said. “Stratton School wants all students to leave Stratton with the knowledge of food choice and the importance of community through understanding local resources.”