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Gardening Takes Root in Maine Schools: Kingfield Elementary Kids Grow and Eat their Own Produce in Outdoor Classroom

Jul 26, 2019

 From 2015 until 2018, Maine SNAP-Ed and Healthy Community Coalition of Greater Franklin County teamed up with the local Master Gardener program and Kingfield Elementary School. They worked together to expand their school garden. Kingsfield is a SNAP-Ed eligible, rural school. Together, they developed a 6-8-week after-school program called Growing Gardeners. 

a small raised garden bed

The program teaches:

  • gardening, 
  • nutrition, 
  • cooking, and 
  • physical activity concepts. 

In 2019, Growing Gardeners expanded into Kingfield Elementary School’s regular school day. This gives more students access to gardening and nutrition education.

kids playing in a garden plot

Program Description

Maine SNAP-Ed is a USDA-funded program. It teaches low-income Mainers how to shop, cook, and eat healthy on a limited budget. The program provides nutrition education classes. It also implements policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change strategies in a variety of local community settings. 

This program employed a school-based environmental change strategy. The local SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educator and a champion from Kingfield Elementary School combined their passion and skills to create a garden. In the garden, children can learn and explore. With help from dedicated volunteers, two raised beds were established in the summer of 2015. Since then, the garden has more than doubled to four raised beds. There is also now a greenhouse/shed space. 

One teacher notes that SNAP-Ed helps them make the very crucial connection of “plant to plate.” SNAP-Ed staff and volunteers provide the cooking and nutrition education components. This allows school staff to focus on using the garden classroom. The staff uses the classroom to teach science, social studies, math, and literacy. 

“We always start our program with what the learning for the day is whether it’s the Six Basic Plant Parts, The Life Cycle of a Plant, Flowers and Pollination, Composting, etc., but we always review what plants need to grow by this ‘repeat after me’ chant:

"Sun, soil, water, and air
Everything we eat
And everything we wear
Comes from sun, soil, water, and air’” 
– Kingfield School Garden Champion

Sustaining Success

In the spring of 2019, with the school principal’s support, Growing Gardeners was fully integrated into the school curriculum. "By changing our model," the Maine SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educator notes, "...we have been able to reach more students.”  The program began educators working with 30-40 kids after school. It now reaches about 60 kindergarten through 4th-grade students during the school day. 
In addition to increased school support, the educational garden model is sustained in Kingfield through:

  • generous community donations that contribute to the growth and maintenance of the garden;
  • the creation and sale of the Growing Gardeners cookbooks, to help purchase garden supplies;
  • an annual spring seedling sale; 
  • a student-hosted Family Harvest Meal fundraiser every fall; and
  • external funding secured by the community coalition to further support the school garden.
kids with shovels and a wheelbarrow

 
The success of this effort depends on many people, including:

  • a robust volunteer network of parents, 
  • community members, 
  • school staff, 
  • Master Gardeners, 
  • and the dedication of a passionate and involved champion at Kingfield Elementary School. 

This volunteer effort allows the SNAP-Ed Nutrition Educator to dedicate her time to nutrition education at the garden. It also ensures that the garden will continue to grow and influence children’s behaviors.