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Cape Elizabeth schools celebrate harvest as a learning experience

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Cape Elizabeth schools celebrate harvest as a learning experience

CAPE ELIZABETH — Nearly 20 eager sixth-graders helped pick onions, green peppers and squash at Jordan's Farm Tuesday morning as part of Maine Harvest Week.

The students from Susan Deeves' class took the field trip as one of many activities planned for the week-long farm awareness program. Deeves said the students were very enthusiastic for the field trip.

"Most of the students are familiar with the local farms, and were excited to visit," she said. "Having them harvest the food is fun, and I expect they will talk about this for a while."

Maine Harvest Week began Sept. 14 and is part of the Farm-to-School initiative. It is a program for students across the state to learn about the benefits of buying and eating local foods. It's goal is to create relationships between local farmers and fishermen and the schools.

Joan Daly, the school liaison from the Cape Elizabeth Farm Alliance, said while the schools have had gardens for a while, she would like to expand the program.

For the Harvest Lunch on Thursday, Sept. 17, Daly said students would be served be homemade salsa with fresh garlic, onions, tomatoes and herbs, vegetable calzones, and fresh, local salad ingredients. 

Walter Beesley, education specialist at the Department of Education's Child Nutrition Services, said the program started in the early 1990s, but was eliminated because of budget cuts. It was revived about four years ago, and Beesley said it continues to grow each year.

"The initiative is a way to support local farmers, encourage students to buy locally and keep money within the community," he said. "This local awareness drive starts with a week of activities, but what the students learn can last them a lifetime."

Locally grown products are better products, Beesley said, and Deeves' students would agree. As they picked the onions, some students smelled the bulbs. Some children raced to find the biggest peppers and others filled five-gallon buckets with bright yellow squash.

"I've been to the farm before, but this time it was good to talk to the farmer," Tully Matusko said of a conversation he had with owner Penny Jordan. "I harvest vegetables at home in our garden, too, but didn't know about blight before." 

Mutusko asked Jordan about spraying for bugs, organic farming and why tomatoes turned brown this year. Other students wanted to know when certain vegetables were harvested and about the history of the farm.

Daly told the students about the benefits of having working farms nearby. 

"You get to drive here with your family and ask the farmers questions," she said. "Now you can see where your food comes from, the people who grew it, and how it was done."

In addition to harvesting vegetables at Jordan's Farm, guidance counselor Gretchen McCoy said, during the week students shucked corn, played farm food trivia games, had a harvest poster contest and worked with the school chefs to prepare the harvest meal.

"This is our second year participating in Harvest Week, and we are doing more than last year," McCoy said. "Students are having fun participating in the activities and seem excited to learn about the importance of local food."

Sixth-graders Taylor Connell and Mariah Higley said they have been to the farm before and they have gardens at home, but it was their first time harvesting so many different vegetables.

"I just want to take a bite of this," Higley said of the green pepper she picked. "It looks so good."

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.