Growing Gardens, Growing Minds: MDES School Garden Project
Connecting youth with the environment and healthy food through authentic learning opportunities in our school’s gardens.
The Mount Desert Elementary School garden project, “Growing Gardens, Growing Minds,” began over 8 years ago championed by a principal and committee who wanted to create an outdoor classroom committed to a vision of engaging authentic learning for students from kindergarten to eighth grade. The community based greenhouse project is designed to accompany the school gardens for teaching, providing children with healthy lifestyle choices and nutritional food as well as for building connections with people, nature, and sustainability. Raising generous donations and receiving local grants, an 18′ x 32′ greenhouse was constructed on the school property with propane heat, fans, electricity and water.
Patty Kelley is the current Garden and Greenhouse Coordinator who had been working as an Ed Tech in Special Education at the school. With previous experience at another school starting and overseeing a successful school garden, she was a natural choice to be hired as the half-time garden and greenhouse coordinator/half-time ed tech to help the program thrive. Now with a few years of successfully running the garden program, she is hopeful that the position will evolve into a full-time garden/greenhouse coordinator in the future. As many school garden coordinators can attest, it can take many extra hours to manage a successful school garden.
Patty attributes a large part of the success of the MDES program to two things: the location of the school (in the middle of the village across from the library with people visiting the garden throughout the summer) as well as the strong financial support (offered by the parents and local community including the Garden Club of Mount Desert). The project would not have developed in the same manner without this location and vital community support.
Here’s a snapshot of the seasons (from excerpts on the MDES Facebook page) which paints a picture of a year at a school garden.
- It has been a wonderful year in the greenhouse and garden. The children have learned to become confident gardeners. Growing a garden encourages responsibility and inspires a child to understand and embrace caring for all of nature. While our young gardeners are off for their summer adventures ~ I will be tending the school garden and will look forward to the children returning in September for the harvest and bounty that all of them ~ and our community ~ have helped create.
- Late summer in the school garden and the sunflowers are bursting. The bumblebee pollinators sleep under the leaves of vegetable plants and in the flowers and awaken every morning to a bounty. Corn slowly ripens after a rainy and cool season but the children will enjoy the harvest in a few weeks ~ there is nothing like fresh corn ears from the stalk ~ husked and eaten raw to appreciate the summer sweetness.
- The first week of school and the harvest begins! Carrots and corn were pulled and cucumbers and a full bushel of cherry tomatoes were picked and served to the kids for lunch. The first grade cut a cartful of orange pumpkins ~ the pumpkins that they planted from seeds when they were kindergarteners last spring.
- Autumn is a time for seed gathering ~ milkweed fluff blowing in the wind, spicy smelling marigold seeds, morning glory flower pods ~ so many garden seeds to discover in the late season. The greenhouse is now toasty warm and lettuce, basil, zinnias and radishes that the children planted in the garden boxes are beginning to grow.
- In the winter as the days become solstice shorter and the season’s magic embraces the children ~ the smell of balsam ~ and handworks of wool, pinecones, candles and growing seedlings ~ festively fill the greenhouse.
- Spring season includes growing spring seedlings in the greenhouse which are also used for their spring sale to raise funds for the garden.
For more information, contact Patty Kelley, Garden and Greenhouse Coordinator, MDES, at firstname.lastname@example.org.