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     Growing trend - Gardens in Schools    
     Author:  Admin
     Dated:  Sunday, January 16 2005 @ 05:02 PM UTC
     Viewed:  449 times  
    THE GARDEN PROJECT at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast is not just about growing flowers and vegetables. The project helps teach seventh-graders a wide variety of other subjects and skills, in innovative ways.

    By RAY ROUTHIER, Portland Press Herald Writer

    Growing trend
    By RAY ROUTHIER, Portland Press Herald Writer

    Joshua Wolfer, a seventh-grader at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, is editor of the Weekly Worm, the newspaper for the school's Garden Project. The project, in which pupils plant, raise and sell flowers and vegetables, has become a national model for using gardening to teach concepts and skills from a variety of subjects.

    BELFAST — Morgan Martin, 12, used to help his mother in the garden once in a while. He never thought it was much fun. But in the past few months, Morgan has changed his mind about gardening. He's grown wheat, and then helped make pizza out of it. He's tried foods he had never tried before, like Swiss chard, because he helped grow it.

    And he's learned how to measure the sugar in plant leaves, to check their health.

    "It's not much fun when you garden alone," said Martin, a seventh-grader at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. "But it's kinda fun now."

    So what's changed?

    Morgan now has more than 100 gardening companions - his fellow students who participate in this midcoast school's 4-year-old Garden Project. The students plant and raise flowers and vegetables, both in a greenhouse and outside, then sell their wares at a farm stand, give it to the school's cafeteria, or distribute it to the needy in the area.

    They run the garden like a business, developing strategies, figuring costs, and doing the marketing. They deal with other area businesses, draw up proposals, and even have to apply for jobs within their school garden "company."

    Don't tell Morgan, but he's also learning a lot too: math; biology and earth science; economics; nutrition; and Maine history.

    "There are so many disciplines involved in this, so many skills," says Don White, the school's agricultural coordinator. "These students are engaged and having fun at this, and that's when they learn."

    The Garden Project at Troy Howard Middle School has become a national model of how to make gardening a hands-on tool for teaching many other, sometimes boring, subjects. At Troy Howard, White and other teachers find it's especially good for helping students develop many fundamental skills - doing math calculations by hand, for instance, while selling produce.

    The project is one of several at schools across the state using gardening as a learning tool, including at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro and the Islesboro Central School on Islesboro. Many other schools in the state, estimated at between 50 and 100 in any year, use gardens or gardening in at least part of the curriculum.


    The trend toward school gardens, nationally and in Maine, is championed by many educators who see it as a fun experience that presents opportunities for serious learning in many different areas of a school's curriculum.

    "These gardens can help students achieve academic success while learning about healthy choices and where their food comes from," said Mary Bird, a science education instructor at the University of Maine, who coordinates the 400-member Maine School Garden Network.

    "In the last five or 10 years, a lot more (educators) have been making the connection between gardening and improved student performance in a range of subjects."

    Not to mention the fact that kids who garden are learning about healthy foods. In a country where obesity among children is a serious problem, school gardens help kids learn firsthand about how to eat healthy.

    "When kids help grow something, and they have a choice of foods at lunch, guess which ones they'll choose?" said Bird. "They choose to eat what they grew."

    And when they are doing something they like, they tend to remember more about it.

    "It's amazing what they grow, and how proud they are of the food they grow, at the farm stand or food they entered at the Common Ground Fair," said Sarah Martin, Morgan's mother.

    In any given year, the school's garden and greenhouse produces a huge range of produce, from herbs, tomatoes, beans and cucumbers to wheat, melons and squash - plus a wide range of flowers. The greenhouse produces vegetables, herbs and flowers all year long.


    The Troy Howard Middle School's Garden Project has gotten a lot of recognition and praise. White and Steve Tanguay, the social studies teacher who handles much of the garden-related curriculum, won an "Excellence in Teaching Agriculture Award" from the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year, as well as several honors from the state.

    White began using gardens as a teaching tool when he taught special education to grammar schoolers. He wanted something to help children who didn't learn easily in an academic setting. At the middle school, the program includes mostly seventh-graders, but students from other grades participate as well.

    While White supervises the children as they work in the school's 200-foot-long garden or 35-foot by 48-foot greenhouse, Tanguay supervises students as they conduct the business part of the venture. They write business proposals, compose marketing jingles, and research the history of various foods and of Maine agriculture. Along the way they also learn a lot of fundamental math and science.

    "When they're selling (flowers and vegetables) at the farm stand, we don't let them use a calculator. They have to do all the figuring by hand," said Tanguay. "They also have to be able to compose a business letter. There are a lot of skills involved."

    The Garden Project is fundamentally a small business. In 2002, the first year that the greenhouse was being used in addition to the garden, students harvested 4,000 pounds of food. About 1,700 pounds, valued at $985, were used in dishes in the school's cafeteria. Some food was given to local food pantries and the rest was sold at the farm stand, located on school grounds. The money earned was used for more gardening supplies.

    About the same amount of food was produced last year, in 2003/2004.


    The students involved interview with the teachers for some 35 different types of jobs in the three divisions of the garden company: seed, compost, and garden stand.

    In the seed division, students weigh and package seeds for sale. They also design artwork for seed packages, and write marketing copy.

    In the compost division, some students gather food scraps, others dig trenches for compost. In the garden stand division, students plant, pick and pack flowers and vegetables, handle the money and do the bookkeeping, run the farm stand, create advertising campaigns and distribute produce to various social service agencies.

    Ashton Fancy is one of several students in the garden stand division who have written advertising jingles for the garden company and sung them over the school's PA system. Fancy also helped grow poinsettias for sale around Christmastime.

    John McDonald, the school's assistant principal, has a daughter in the garden project, and has seen firsthand what an impact it can have on students.

    "A big part of the success is the hands-on aspect. Some kids are hard to reach in the classroom," said McDonald. "But this makes learning fun for a lot of kids, and they're thrilled with that."


    THE GARDEN PROJECT at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast is not just about growing flowers and vegetables. The project helps teach seventh-graders a wide variety of other subjects and skills, in innovative ways. Here are a few examples:

    MATH: Learning to do calculations, without calculators, while selling produce at the school's farm stand. Doing the math needed to figure out the profit margins of pizzas made with garden-grown ingredients.

    SCIENCE: Hands-on study of plant biology, what makes a healthy plant, and how to harvest seeds, as well as the chemical processes involved in composting.

    BUSINESS: Students run the garden as the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Company, broken into three divisions: seed; compost; and garden stand. Students are responsible for planning all portions of the operation, including the planting, harvesting, purchasing of supplies, and distribution of the food, through sales, through the school cafeteria, and through donations to food banks or soup kitchens.

    WORLD TRADE: By studying where the foods they grow come from originally, and how important certain crops are to certain areas.

    HISTORY: Students study Maine agricultural history, and research and grow certain Maine heirloom crops.

    NUTRITION: Students are more likely to try healthy foods if they grow them themselves.


    TROY HOWARD MIDDLE SCHOOL is recognized as a national model of how to integrate garden projects into school curriculum. But Maine has many other schools that use gardening as a learning tool.

    TO LEARN MORE about school gardening in Maine and nationally, try the following resources:

    THE MAINE SCHOOL GARDEN NETWORK: Coordinated through the University of Maine's college of education, this is an informal group of about 400 members working to promote the idea of gardening as an educational resource. For more information, including versions of the network's newsletters, visit the Maine School Garden Network page at www.mofga.org.

    THE TROY HOWARD MIDDLE SCHOOL GARDEN COMPANY: For more information on this educational program, using gardening as a focus, visit the school's Web site at www.sad34.net and click on Garden Project.

    NATIONAL GARDENING ASSOCIATION: Has information and resources about school gardening across the country on their Web site: www.kidsgardening.com. The Web site lists products for sales, books, and hosts a national directory of school gardens that can be searched by state. You can also call the National Gardening Association, which is based in Burlington, Vt., at (800) 538-7476.

    Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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