September 17, 2010

Senior project puts food on plates

Maranacook Community High School student's garden thrives for all

READFIELD -- Tyler DeAngelis lamented the look and taste of his lettuce one day at lunch during his sophomore year at Maranacook Community High School.

click image to enlarge

The Maranacook Community School senior Tyler DeAnglis has his senior project garden located behind the school in Readfield. His project provides vegetables to the school lunch program.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The stuff in his salad, DeAngelis said, was "brown and slimy and wilted."

"I was eating the cafeteria food and it was nasty," he said. "I want to show the kids that eating good food is the way to go."

With that thought, DeAngelis began sketching out plans for an on-campus garden to be located behind the 450-student Maranacook Community High School.

DeAngelis spent much of his junior year planning out the vegetable plot, and started planting in the spring.

This month, the high school's cafeteria started stocking the salad bar with DeAngelis' lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans, and using his vegetables in sandwiches and other menu items. DeAngelis, now a 17-year-old senior, has yet to dig up the potatoes or harvest the broccoli and a host of other items for the school lunch line.

DeAngelis, of Readfield, said he timed his plants to bloom now, during the first few weeks of the school year.

"I took their maturation rates and worked backwards," he said.

DeAngelis said he started the undertaking simply as a way to enrich the school lunch line with fresh, local vegetables.

"I want food in my cafeteria with one ingredient," he said, rather than processed foods with multitudes of multisyllabic ingredients.

But the garden has since evolved into DeAngelis' senior project, and he said he's figuring out how to keep it going next year, after he graduates.

"I didn't know anything about gardening when I started this," DeAngelis said. "It's definitely a huge learning experience."

DeAngelis sought planting tips from local farmers and watched YouTube videos on sowing specific seeds. He also secured donations: fencing from Longfellow's Greenhouses in Manchester, a grant from Healthy Communities of the Capital Area and a soil-compost mix from a friend.

From time to time, other students join DeAngelis in the garden to help out. He says he wants them to know gardening isn't as difficult as it might seem.

"You've just got to take the time," he said.

Each morning before classes, DeAngelis -- whose father, Steve, is a physics teacher and dean at the high school -- harvests the pick of the day and delivers it to the cafeteria.

Marion Pelton, an assistant cook, said the salad bar has surged in popularity since DeAngelis' produce was added. Students simply pile the lettuce onto their trays, she said.

"It's got more flavor, so we're selling a lot more of it," Pelton said. "All of the vegetables have been very big sellers."

While not all students are diving into the salad greens, those who are say they appreciate the opportunity to eat local foods.

"It's from the garden, so you know where it's coming from," said Amanda Findley, a 17-year-old senior from Manchester. "It's just another healthier option. I'd rather take that than the school food."

Robby Clark said the improved salad bar offerings have prompted him to eat more lettuce.

"What's been coming out of his garden is amazing," said Clark, 17, of Readfield. "He's done a great job with the garden here, and it'd be cool to see it continued next year."

Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435

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