With a large school garden that spans from one side of the road comprised of 16 raised beds, 8 non-raised beds, fruit trees, blueberry bushes, decorative shrubs and flowers to 8 asparagus beds, rows of strawberries and blueberry bushes on the other side, the Gorham Middle School Garden covers a lot of ground!
Started by Alternative Education teacher Heather Whitaker back in 2007, this school garden now serves as an integral part of her alternative education curriculum. In the beginning, Heather consulted Cultivating Community for advice on how to get started and use the gardening project to meet curriculum standards. Heather encourages others not to be concerned with how much or little they know about gardening when they are thinking about starting a school garden because there are plenty of resources to help.
Although the school garden supplies the local food pantry with 100-150 lbs of produce a week or over 1500 lbs of produce a year, they don’t always have enough quantities of each kind of vegetable to be able to consistently provide for the needs of the school cafeteria. By donating to the Gorham Food Pantry, they can give what they have available and help those in need in their community.
Heather supplements her students’ efforts with volunteers from the high school looking to fulfill community service hours, the teen summer camp run by the Recreation Department and even the local Police Department who refer appropriate offenders needing community service hours to assist the gardening effort. One student is earning community service hours this summer by volunteering to mow the lawn!
The Gorham Garden Club is also a supporter and donates both time and money to the program. This summer the school garden was a stop on the Garden Club Federation of Maine’s 90th Annual Convention gardens tours. One of the Gorham Garden Club members is also a Maine Master Gardener and has adopted the school garden as her volunteer focus.
Heather is also involved in the Gorham Backpack Program which provides students in her community who are experiencing chronic hunger with food that is nutritious and easy-to-prepare to eat during weekends and school vacations when those crucial school meals are unavailable. Her alternative education students are active volunteers for both programs.
And if that weren’t enough, Heather was recognized for all of her efforts when she was named Maine Teacher of the Year in 2020!
However, for every school garden there is always a next step. Heather has funding for a greenhouse and would like to develop a sustainable plan to where they can grow their own seedlings and invite other educators to use the greenhouse for their own projects.
For more information, contact Heather Whitaker at email@example.com