Welcome to the MSGN’s School Garden of the Month. This project is made possible by Maine Ag in the Classroom’s 2016 Grant program. We will be highlighting a unique school garden each month and making visits to connect with the fantastic garden leaders in this state, talk about the awesome work they’re doing, and share models and activities with the Maine School Garden Network. To learn more or nominate a school garden of the month, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introducing two of our School Garden Coaches for 2016: Amanda Ripa and Beth Prelgovisk!
These two incredible educators began their garden projects just a few years ago but the teams at Messalonskee Middle and High School have accomplished a ton in just a short time.
The support of Claire Heffernan, the RSU18 district’s health coordinator, has been integral to the programs’ success. She has helped them gain administrative support and attain several grants to bolster the programs, which now each have a greenhouse and outdoor bed space with water access and seeding space. After Beth made a major push to start the farm-to-school group in the district, Claire has been helping to guide the program and led them through a Farm-to-School Planning Grant process. This created a team of core stakeholders (much like the Farm-to-School Institute, mentioned in the Walker Elementary School article) including teachers, administrators, food service, and more to address farm-to-school needs and issues. The program has grown and grown from there with those stakeholders all having a voice along the way.
Messalonskee High School
I recently visited the Messalonskee High School’s garden and greenhouse for the first time on a sunny August afternoon. Driving into the school you can’t miss them – the greenery bursting from the beds is visible right from the road. From down in the parking lot, the square beds form the shape of an “M”, just the way the students who built them intended.
Tomatoes, herbs, carrots, squash, corn, beans, and more greeted me as I entered. Beth Prelgovisk, the 9-12 Health and Physical Education teacher and garden leader, showed me her favorites, including the Blush tomato – an elongated sweet yellow variety with unique appearance and flavor- and some French tomatoes from a teacher who visits France each year. When the incoming 9th graders arrived the next day, they would be in for those treats as part of their orientation tour of the school.
The herb bed was filled with mint, chives, oregano, among other friends, and will be used in the cafeteria so that students may add fresh herbs to their lunch meals. Two small grafted apple trees from this year’s Maine School Garden Day (!!) stood tall and proud (well… they’ll get there) and leafy – both grafts that Beth made at the workshop took, meaning the desirable scion variety will produce fruit on the hardy, strong rootstock that she grafted it to! And beyond that, more perennial friends were found nearby; one student took it upon herself to write a grant for ten blueberry bushes at the high school, as well as some shade trees for the elementary school she attended. Student initiatives for the win!
The garden gets a lot of action at Messalonskee High School. Beth is the leader of the Agricultural Club, where around thirty students participate in growing their own food each year. In the 2015-2016 School Year, MHS collaborated with Kennebec Valley Community College to create a dual credit Plant Biology class taught by Beth’s son, Brian Quigley – another awesome educator and plant enthusiast at MHS. I was able to visit his classroom during my visit as well – GrowLabs readily anticipating plant activity, cacti and succulents lined the window, posters from Maine Ag in the Classroom’s Summer Teacher’s Institute to promote local agriculture and nutrition – any bets on whether or not his students will be gardening this year? Fifteen students in the Life Skills Class also utilize the garden space for tactile hands-on learning. Messalonskee High School is already a model, demonstrating the use of the garden as an inclusive space for any level, ability, learning style, background – everyone is invited. Beyond that, all 1700 students in the high school participate in the garden taste tastes during Maine Harvest Lunch Week – don’t forget to mark your calendars: September 19-23 this year!
Messalonskee Middle School
I’ve worked with Amanda’s 7th grade science class before, when she graciously invited me to do some lesson plans around flower reproduction, germination, and seed saving. These were suited to her students’ learning goals for the year in biology, and supplemented a whole lot more learning around gardening and plant science. Amanda always has something growing in her classroom – last year she tried some microgreens and shoots, and some students took it upon themselves to plant (maybe a few too many) tomatoes in an empty fish tank near the window. With support from their administration, her teaching team, Team Pemaquid, integrates gardening into their Math, Science, Social studies, and English classrooms. These teachers work together to align the activities to the learning goals for the year, again demonstrating how garden-based learning can span a range of subjects and needs.
Follow the students lead! Offer voice and choice in their gardens. Involve them in all the work; planning, designing, gathering resources, procuring donations, starting seedlings, planting seedlings, and finally harvesting and seed saving. Students can also problem solve and help identify pests. Give students plants to take home and take care of. The possibilities and rewards are endless! – Amanda Ripa, when asked what advice she would give to other School Garden Coaches
The middle school outdoor space has 8 raised beds, which are also dedicated as community space for members of the Oakland community to grow their own food over the summer. Amanda received a grant for a hoophouse in 2014, and has been getting her (and her students’) hands in the dirt as much as possible ever since. By talking to her students about what they hoped to get out of the garden, she learned that the salad bar could use some livening up, especially by the last lunch period of the day. One of the goals for the garden this year is to grow beautiful and tasty salad greens all year to add to the cafeteria salad bar. Stay tuned for more on this – we will be collaborating to make this goal a reality and will be sharing our work in the coming months!
Check out Amanda’s program “Lettuce Grow a Healthy Harvest” on her website at http://mmsgreenhouse.weebly.com. You’ll find a post about our seedy collaboration on observing green bean germination, as well as photos of their taste tests and harvest celebrations, where they even made pumpkin butter out of the pumpkins and squash they grew. Yum!