FARMINGTON – On a sunny May morning, Cascade Brook School students check garden beds for signs of growth. Wielding clipboards and yardsticks, others measure garden beds and sketch plans for a fence to keep the young plants safe from wildlife. The students might not necessarily know it, but they are using math and critical thinking skills while simultaneously gaining an interest in growing their own food.
The elementary school has recently been working to revitalize the garden program, lead by third grade teacher Sarah Reynolds and School Garden Coach Laura Hoeft. The project originated with a group called Students Interested in Nutrition and Gardening, comprised of teachers from Franklin County who were interested in improving the schoolyard gardens. Local farmer and Greater Franklin Food Council chair Erica Emery started this group and it has since grown to include representatives from all over the county: Farmington, Kingfield, Stratton and Philips.
SING has been able to receive funding from the GFFC to hire Hoeft, who travels to four different schools, supporting each garden program in any way she can. Reynolds
“We’ve greatly benefited from Laura Hoeft’s time and energy as she worked hard to bring gardening back to CBS,” Reynolds said.
Hoeft started visiting CBS in September to make a plan, working together with Reynolds to get the program off its feet.
“The goals weren’t wildly ambitious, but CBS was excited to have someone with new, fresh ideas,” Hoeft said.
Over the winter, she gave lessons in worm composting and plant parts. Hoeft taught the kids how to take care of the worms and what function they have in the garden. Teachers surveyed the kids about what they were interested in planting. The students have now started seedlings in their classrooms, watering them and monitoring their progress daily.
Reynolds applied for a mini-grant from the Maine Environmental Education Association after hearing about it from her principal, Dr. Nichole Goodspeed.
“Our garden program was moving quickly thanks to Laura’s energy, donations, and time, and many of the things I applied for had been fulfilled,” Reynolds said.
MEEA ended up awarding the $1,500 grant to SING, and they were able to use it to solve small problems they had come across. They had to find space to store their garden supplies and find a way to protect the gardens from the school’s local herd of deer.
Reynolds and Hoeft went to Jake Bogar, the pre-engineering teacher at Foster Career and Technical Education Center, to see if his students could design and build a shed for the tools so they could be stored near the gardens. Bogar was excited about the project and he has already brought his students to CBS to make a plan for the tool shed.
The school recieved enough funding to add a raised, handicapped-accesible bed. Earlier this year, middle school students were called in to help move the original three garden beds to a sunnier spot, more ideal for growth. The elementary students are happy to have middle schoolers and high schoolers helping with their project.
“This entire garden program has really connected the students across the entire district,” Reynolds said.
To protect the gardens from deer, teachers have enlisted the help of the kids, having them design a fence while learning about area and perimeter. Other teachers are incorporating this into their curriculum as well, estimating the cost of the fence and posts to learn about decimals and much more.
Reynolds says that they are all working together to create the fence.
“Some classrooms are measuring, recording, sketching, and calculating the dimensions,” she said.
The teachers have noticed many students gaining interest in learning about where their food comes from. The kids have felt passionate about taking care of their plants
“Students have really felt empowered by the responsibility of caring for the plants,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds and Hoeft are enthusiastic about how the garden will affect the school in the future.
“Learning about healthy food will benefit the students in our school for years to come,” Reynolds said.