Cultivating the future: Portland schools teach science, grow lunch

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PORTLAND — If learning is about growing, then several of the city’s elementary schools are planting their way to success.

On Saturday, neighbors, parents, teachers and students came together to build vegetable garden beds at Reiche School, and last week Longfellow Elementary School dedicated its new greenhouse.

“We’re building (the gardens) to really allow kids to see, smell and feel them,” Reiche School Principal Paul Yarnevich said.

Portland schools already have a program in place to integrate local food into the lunch menu, but the new garden initiatives bring things even closer to home with student-grown food going straight from garden to cafeteria table.

Yarnevich said a group of six Reiche parents started getting together last fall as a “Green Team” to help out with recycling and composting at the school.

“The whole thing is really run by parents,” he said, adding that several Reiche teachers are helping out as well.

That same group has spearheaded the gardening efforts, financed by several grants.

Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation donated $5,000 to the project to pay for soil and building supplies, and several smaller organizations also donated funds.

The students are participating by growing seedlings in their classrooms. The corn, carrots, potatoes and other plants will then be transplanted into the new gardens.

At Longfellow School, gardens are already in place. But now the school has a new greenhouse where classes can start their seedlings earlier in the year, and extend the growing season in the fall.

Last year, Longfellow students harvested 140 pounds of carrots and 220 pounds of potatoes from the garden, all of which was incorporated into the school lunch program.

The new greenhouse was created with the help of nearly $6,000 raised by Whole Foods Market, and the outdoor classroom that accompanies the gardens and greenhouse was created with help from students at the Portland Arts and Technology High School, who built bases to hold recycled benches from Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Now all the schools have to do is find volunteers to water the plants over the summer break.

“We have a summer garden-sitting club,” Yarnevich said. “Right now this is in the hands of a lot of folks who have a lot of energy for it.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.

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Liam Sommer, 5, a kindegarten student at Reiche School, and his brother Calil, 2, help parents, teachers and volunteers put in a garden at the school on Saturday, May 21. The students will use the gardens to grow food for the cafeteria, while learning how plants grow.

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