September 10, 2013

Hinckley charter school's new greenhouses latest step in agricultural mission

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — The state's first charter high school unveiled a new project reflective of its agricultural mission today as students from around the state returned to campus for the start of the school year.

click image to enlarge

Jeff Chase, center, the agricultural specialist for the Maine School of Natural Sciences, offers a tour today to Mark Tulley, left, and Renee Gray, right, of one of three greenhouses recently erected at the Maine School of Natural Sciences in Hinckley.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Tim Thompson, 17, a senior at the Maine School of Natural Sciences, holds up the novelty scissors as Jeff Chase, the agriculture specialist for the school, is introduced, during the dedication today of three greenhouses at the Maine School of Natural Sciences in Hinckley.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

USDA CENSUS OF AGRICULTURE

Number of farms in Maine in 2007: 8,136

2002: 7,196

1997: 7,404

Percent increase from 1997: 9 percent

Three new greenhouses opened today at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in a ceremony involving students, faculty members and the family of Shirley Bastien, an active gardener and former board member at the school to whom one of the new greenhouses waas dedicated.

closThe project has been a long-term goal of the charter school, which opened for its second year with the first day of school today. The greenhouses will be incorporated into the agricultural curriculum and used to grow food for students and faculty members on campus.

Both new and old students gathered at the Good Will-Hinckley campus today to celebrate.

"I love this and I think it will be an awesome project," said senior Tim Thompson, 17. The greenhouses mean the school can produce more of its own food and that students can be directly involved in growing it, he said. It is also a chance to expand on an aquaponics project students worked on last year that they used to grow lettuce and peas, he said.

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences operated as a magnet school for one year. Before that, the campus was home to the Good Will-Hinckley home for Boys and Girls — a home, school and working farm operated by students.

John Willey, 79, a 1952 graduate of the school, said the greenhouse project was a way of reinstating the farm program around which the campus had operated for decades.

"Having a farm on campus involves everything a kid needs to know to be self-sufficient when they leave school — discipline, responsibility and affection for the natural world," he said.

Good Will-Hinckley, founded in 1889, was a residential school that closed in 2009 because of financial problems. It opened the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in September 2011.

The three greenhouses, which were built using grants from the Bastien family as well as the Farm Credit of Maine program and the school's money, will include an aquaponics system, a method that combines fish tanks with vegetable gardens to recycle the fish waste and use it as fertilizer for the plants.

They are the latest development on the 1,800-acre campus the charter school shares with the L.C. Bates Museum, the Glenn Stratton Learning Center and a new agriculture program at Kennebec Valley Community College; and one way the school hopes to further its mission of giving students a hands-on learning experience with an emphasis on agriculture and farming.

The school already has a vegetable garden on campus, and last school year students raised chickens, said Executive Director Glenn Cummings. In the future, there are plans to work with the college, which recently started a two-year sustainable-agriculture degree program that it plans to run at a recently purchased old dairy farm on the Good Will-Hinckley campus.

Both projects are part of a growing interest in agriculture among young people and represent a need for agriculture education, said John Rebar, executive director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture census, the number of farms in the United States has increased 4 percent from 2002 to 2007. In Maine, the number of farms increased from 7,196 in 2002 to 8,136 in 2007, an increase of about 13 percent.

One reason for the growth is that Maine has land access that includes natural resources such as soil and water that are limited in other states, he said. Because it is on the Eastern Seaboard, Maine also has access to ports and shipping routes in New England and elsewhere on the East Coast, which represents room for economic growth, Rebar said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

People gather around one of three newly erected greenhouses during their dedication at the Maine School of Natural Sciences in Hinckley today.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

  


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