Superintendent's Notebook: Portland's school gardens teach many lessons
Many children returning to the Portland Public Schools next month will enjoy the fruits – and vegetables – of their labor.
Gardens planted last spring now are flourishing at nearly all of our elementary, middle and high schools. In the fall, students will harvest potatoes, peppers, carrots, corn, lettuce, pumpkins, squash, herbs and more.
The district’s cafeterias served 140 pounds of carrots and 220 pounds of potatoes that were grown at Longfellow Elementary School last year. In the future, we hope to serve salad greens and other produce from gardens throughout the district in our food program. It’s all part of our effort to offer students fresh, local fruits and vegetables.
School gardens provide rich learning experiences. Students spend time outdoors learning about horticulture and nutrition – but the lessons go far beyond that. Teachers are using school gardens for instruction in everything from creative writing to art, social studies, math and scientific research.
Students at Lincoln Middle School grow plants in the school’s greenhouse and geodesic dome as well as in outside beds. Last year, Rob Lindsay’s sixth-grade science class researched and chose plants to grow in each of those locations. Then, they compared growth rates and other data.
Longfellow’s garden, started seven years ago, now has 10 raised beds. Kindergartners learn about the relationship between companion plants by growing corn, squash and beans. First- and second-graders plant gardens that contain all of the ingredients for making “stone soup,” and they share the soup with their classmates.
Longfellow third-graders learn about biodiversity as they plant and tend Maine heirloom seeds. Fourth-graders who are studying Maine history and culture grow varieties of Maine potatoes. All of the students involved in the garden learn that eating healthy can be fun.
Longfellow built a greenhouse last spring, with funding from Whole Foods. That will allow students to continue growing plants through the colder months. You can read more about the project at longfellowlearninggarden.blogspot.com/.
The school garden movement is growing rapidly nationwide, and Portland is helping to lead the way in Maine. Staff, parents and community partners from seven Portland schools gathered at Longfellow last month for a “garden summit” to share experiences. The summit was organized by the staff of Communities Putting Prevention to Work, a public health initiative addressing the environmental causes of childhood obesity.
Local businesses and nonprofit organizations such as Portland Trails, Painting with a Purpose, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service and Cultivating Community have provided funding and expertise for Portland’s school gardens. Parents and community volunteers also play an important role by helping to build beds and to weed and water plants throughout the summer.
The entire community benefits from the beautiful, lush gardens that surround our schools. I encourage you to check them out.
Many schools in Maine will hold garden open houses on Oct. 1 as the culmination of Maine Harvest Lunch Week. The effort is being organized by the Maine School Garden Network. Find details and more information at www.msgn.org/.