Edna Drinkwater School is a K-8 school in the town of Northport on the Penobscot Bay. Over 25 years ago, a special education teacher (who was also an organic gardener) started the Drinkwater School garden tradition. Vegetables and herbs were grown and salsa was made and sold to the school community, providing seed money for the following year. Each year, other classes became more involved, using math to measure plot size, graphing and weighing the produce, selling vegetables to the community, and donating to the local soup kitchen and food pantry. Despite inevitable staff turnover, the garden continued, varying in size and production, but always remaining a vital part of the school culture.
Within the last seven years, the garden project has again expanded, and continues to be supported by students, families, staff, administration, the school board, and community members. Below are sample school gardening projects to give you an idea of the growth and reach of the garden program over the years.
Garden and Greenhouse Expansion
- During 2020-2021, students expanded the garden by creating a rock garden shaped as a peace sign.
- In the 2021-2022 school year, students worked with a parent volunteer to rebuild some of the original raised beds that were falling apart.
- In the 2022-2023 school year, an after school program was started by the same parent volunteer in order to rebuild the rest of the old raised beds.
- During the 2015-2016 school year, the middle school students petitioned the school board and community for funds to build a large greenhouse on campus. With their former science teacher, students evaluated three different designs, noting initial costs and future operating costs, and made a recommendation to the board for a 33’-diameter geodesic growing dome.
- With the increase in available growing space in the greenhouse, it was essential that they had a garden sizable enough to support the expanded production. 5th and middle school students then built six raised beds during the 2017-2018 school year.
- Incorporated into a unit on argument reading and writing in 2016-2017, the 5th grade students researched the benefits of school gardening and subsequently wrote persuasive letters to the principal asking to expand the garden. He enthusiastically agreed and students learned about siting a garden, plant needs, soil health, and conducting a soil test. They plotted and planted a new 40’ x 22’ garden, transplanting seedlings they grew in their school greenhouse. Each year, a new row has been added to the garden.
- In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the garden, it was particularly important that the challenging summer months were adequately supported. Because volunteer efforts had not sufficed in previous years, the school wrote a grant from Maine Ag in the Classroom to support funding for a Summer Garden Coordinator who manages the garden with help from local families. The Garden Coordinator, run by the 5th and 6th grade math and science teacher, organizes a schedule of students and volunteers for the garden throughout the summer. In exchange for their volunteer time, they are provided with produce from the garden. The school continues to support the Summer Garden Coordinator position so the garden is managed throughout the summer and the produce can then be donated to the school cafeteria in the fall.
- For the last three summers they have offered a Summer Farm Stand Program for middle school students, in which students learn all aspects of running a farm stand, from harvesting, washing and bunching produce in their own wash station, to advertising, displaying produce and other student-made products like beeswax wraps, customer service, and handling money. The community is very involved in supporting the farm stand.
It Takes A Village
- Thanks to the support and hard work of the cafeteria staff, there are school-wide food tastings served in the lunch and healthy snacks programs from the garden and greenhouse. As a result of these tastings and cooking projects, kids are often commenting on how they are going to grow those foods at home or make those foods with their families. After having tried so many different crops in taste tests, one third grader remarked, “I like so many vegetables now because of trying them in the cafeteria.” Upon tasting kale microgreens, a second grader noted, “My mother has been trying to get me to eat kale for years. Now I actually like it.” Additionally, after tasting local pea shoots in a taste test, one student went home and asked his mother if they could go to the Belfast Co-op to purchase some. These examples show that the exposure we are providing our students with has a direct impact on their own healthy eating habits as well as supporting local growers.
- Thanks to the help of the custodial staff, things like garden carts and hoses get repaired as needed! We have an outdoor classroom structure on campus as well as circular stumps in the garden. There is a new tool shed next to the garden and an additional tool shed next to the greenhouse, all with materials supported by grants from MAITC.
- Teachers and Ed Techs bring their students to help with the planting of seedlings in the greenhouse and/or in the garden. Each year, the garden and greenhouse are utilized not only for growing and eating but also integrated into the curriculum. For example, one year students planted daffodils in front of the entire school, practicing multiplication and division skills.
- Each spring, the 5th-6th graders start seedlings in the school greenhouse and then host an annual Plant Sale fundraiser which always shows strong community support of the Drinkwater garden and greenhouse project. Students are involved in all aspects of the sale, from researching seed varieties, starting seedlings, caring for seedlings in school greenhouse, designing advertising for the plant sale and learning about customer service and other business skills while running the sale.
After School Garden Club
- Drinkwater also provides a free after-school program throughout the school year, and one of the options is a Garden Club, in which students help care for the garden and greenhouse and grow crops to serve in the cafeteria. Through these projects, students gain experience not only caring for the garden and greenhouse but also applying content skills such as math, science, and engineering. Furthermore, crops have already been planted in the greenhouse that will be utilized in the fall for food systems projects.
- A sample of a collaborative project is our partnership with Tanglewood 4-H Center. During the school year, educators from Tanglewood work with classes to incorporate hands-on, inquiry-based learning experiences into our science curriculum, utilizing our campus resources such as our garden, greenhouse, forest, stream, and beach.
- They also hold an annual school-wide Harvest Day, a tradition that’s taken place at Drinkwater for over 20 years! With support of a staff Harvest Day Committee, volunteers, and specialist teachers like art, music, library, and PE, the 5th-6th grade students plan agriculture related stations such as garden tea tasting, seed mosaics, garden carrot cake making, hand felting, beekeeping, read aloud with MAITC books, musical rain sticks, scarecrow relay races, and teaching younger students how to plant garlic with our own saved Drinkwater garlic.
- During our time with hybrid learning, 5th graders partnered with a College of the Atlantic education class in which college students virtually taught 5th graders about the history of U.S. agriculture, soil science, and the environmental benefits of sustainable agriculture, including soil testing, amendments, cover cropping, pest management and beneficial insects.
- For coordinate graphing, students conduct planting and decomposition investigations and collect data, and students practice decimals, fractions, and mapping skills by designing garden plots.
- Students do observational drawings in the garden learning about plant parts, write poems in the garden practicing sensory language or argument essays about garden expansion, and learn about historic methods of food preservation by pickling cucumbers.
- Students learn about agricultural products through the hands-on process and preparation of plant-based products, such as medicinal tea, hand-sewn eye pillows, and natural dyes.
Want to know more?!
Abby Plummer wears many hats! Not only is she a 5th and 6th grade Math and Science Teacher, Garden and Greenhouse Advisor, Garden Club Manager plus the Summer Garden and Farm Stand Coordinator, she is also the winner of the 2022 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award from National Agriculture in the Classroom and 2021 MAITC Teacher of the Year!
Check out these links:
2022 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award (National Ag in the Classroom) https://vimeo.com/709567197?embedded=true&source=vimeo_logo&owner=1997285
2021 MAITC Teacher of the Year announcement link: http://maineagintheclassroom.org/
Contact Abby Plummer 5th and 6th Grade Math and Science Teacher – (207) 338-3430 x 205 or email@example.com