June 30, 2010

In a city garden, schoolkids learn to cultivate community

Sixth-grade curriculum includes gardening

AUGUSTA -- Nathan Huynh squatted next to a raised vegetable garden on the east side of Farrington Elementary School and searched for slimy critters slithering up the side of a cabbage plant.

click image to enlarge

Farrington Elementary School student Nathan Huynh hauls a wagon full of water Tuesday to the gardens and canopy erected at the Augusta school.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The 10-year-old, who volunteered to help maintain the sixth grade's vegetable-and-flower garden this summer, was given the task of sprinkling Sluggo, a snail and slug control product, at the base of each plant.

"I found one," Nathan said holding a wet, gooey gastropod in his hand.

After Nathan tossed it away, he said he was glad to be able to help out.

"I'm learning about gardening," he said. "It's something I have to do next year when I'm in the sixth grade."

Renee Henry, a sixth-grade teacher, and Laurie Crummett, an after-school instructor for the 21st Century program, launched their garden project after attending a seminar at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

"They have a great setup," Henry said Tuesday as she weeded one of the vegetable gardens. "That's where we really got excited. We learned a lot from them. We started by planting Swiss chard and spinach and radishes that we're going to be taking over to the Bread of Life Food kitchen all summer long. When school starts, all the produce will be used in the cafeteria."

Nathan's 17-year-old sister, Nathalie, was busy harvesting spinach in the hoophouse, a structure used as a greenhouse with a plastic roof wrapped over flexible piping. The interior heats up with solar radiation to warm the plants.

"It's fun helping people out," she said.

Henry said the project was incorporated into the sixth-grade curriculum. The students designed the 4-foot-by-8-foot raised beds with the help of a math book and Crummett's son, Noah Tranten, a University of New England sophomore. They also built an herb bed in the shape of an equilateral triangle.

Crummett said her class made the circular stepping stones in the herb garden.

Composting is another component of the project. "We're going to be doing that this fall," Crummett said. "Students will learn what is good and what isn't good for the composter."

One raised bed in the group where plants are growing in not-so-straight rows belongs to Barbara Tobias' kindergarten class.

"They read Peter Rabbit, and with the help of sixth-graders, planted the garden," Henry said. "Next year, they'll be first-graders and be able to come out and see how things grew and maybe even harvest it."

Henry said the school contributed $700 to the project and staff donated the perennials.

Mackenzie Berlan, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, said she was glad to help maintain the garden.

"I get to see my teachers that I adore and get to help the community," Mackenzie said. "I think it's great for the kids. I'm trying to get my family to go green so this fits right in."

Henry said the project is a success, but funding is an issue.

"We would love donations and have to learn how to apply for grants to keep this going," Henry said. "Our society has last two generations of farmers. Hopefully, this will pick up on the farming piece and also teach children about eating right."

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

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