Falmouth school garden project growing like a weed

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FALMOUTH — What started as a simple patch of grass has now become a place for learning and food production.

Directly across the street from the school campus on Woodville Road and adjacent to the School Department’s administrative offices, the new school greenhouse area is nearing completion.

A hoop house – a tunnel-like structure made of polyethylene used to heat plants inside the structure faster than heat can escape – has been constructed, with plants and vegetables are beginning to sprout.

Genna Cherichello, the garden manager, said she met with sixth-grade students in the spring to teach them about different kinds of hoop houses so they could design their own. Cherichello then made a design based on what the students came up with and, in May, construction began.

Students and staff participated in a building day; Cherichello estimates at least 200 people helped in the design and build.

The greenhouse is being paid for with a $40,000 grant from the Falmouth Education Foundation.

All that remains before the nearly 1,600-square-foot building is complete is to install fans and shutters, Cherichello said. Several vegetables have already been planted, including tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, and Cherichello said more will be planted this summer by groups from Falmouth Community Programs.

“We’ll plant stuff they’ll be able to eat this summer,” Cherichello said.

The hoop house will likely be a three-season project, since the structure won’t be heated in the winter.

The hoop house and surrounding garden area will be used for educational purposes when students return in the fall. While each school already has its own garden, Cherichello said the new area will be used to “create unity” among the three schools, as well as in the town and region.

“Each class that comes contributes to the greater good,” she said.

For example, first-graders came in the spring to plant potatoes in a spot next to the hoop house. She said the hope is those students will return in the fall to help with the harvest.

The food that comes from the garden will be used in the school, with excess purposely planted to be donated to the Falmouth Food Pantry. Cherichello said volunteers are always welcome, and can take home food from the gardens. After school and weekends are the best times for volunteers, because otherwise they would need permission from the schools to be present when students are in attendance.

“It’s less of a traditional community garden, but community members are definitely welcome to volunteer,” she said.

Cherichello said there is still more planting to be done over the summer, and more plant beds to be built to “create more productive planting space.”

“There’s still a lot to do,” she said, “but it’s pretty remarkable how far we’ve gotten.”

Cherichello has some long-term plans for the area, which totals just over half an acre. She wants to create an orchard toward the front of the lot, and start other projects, such as growing mushrooms, in a wooded portion.

The plan is “to use every little last inch” of usable space, she said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

A hoop house, which heats plants faster than heat can escape, is nearly complete at the greenhouse and garden area for Falmouth Public Schools. The area, which will be used as a learning environment as well, is across the street from the school campus on Woodville Road.

Garden Manager Genna Cherichello tends potato plants at the Falmouth School Department greenhouse and garden area on Woodville Road.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.