September 23, 2012

Anson third-graders grow fruits, vegetables, more aware

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

ANSON -- Parents and children sat down to a harvest dinner on a recent night to enjoy food prepared from the first crop of a new garden cultivated by third-graders.

click image to enlarge

Dale "Papa" Mullin, right, feeds his grandson Boaz, 2, fresh soup while dining at the harvest dinner at Garrett Schenck Elementary School in Anson Tuesday. Most of the food served was grown in the elementary school garden by students.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Bonnie Johnson, right, serves fresh vegetables to Sam Richardson at the Harvest dinner at Garrett Schenck Elementary School in Anson. Most of the food served was grown in the elementary school garden by students.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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There were carrots, greenbeans, homemade pickles as well as apple and blackberry pies and watermelon for dessert.

The Garrett Schenck Elementary School, like many schools across the nation, is making it a priority to teach students where food comes from and encourage healthy eating. In Somerset County, it is one of four schools to start working with FoodCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to teach nutrition, build school gardens and provide high-need schools with local food.

The organization, which started its work in the county last month, is a division of volunteer organization AmeriCorps. It is about two years old and has 80 service members across the country. Ten of those are in Maine.

Laurie Magee is the Somerset County service member. A petite woman with tanned skin and wavy dark hair, she had a private garden in Anson and was a Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer before getting involved with FoodCorps.

"We are trying to do a lot of outreach in Maine," she said. "There is a high low-income population in the state. There have been problems with obesity and problems getting kids to learn in the classroom. It's true that when children eat better they learn better."

The cafeteria at the harvest dinner is indicative of the type of learning environment healthy homegrown food could bring. The line for the buffet-style dinner wraps around two corners of the room, yet there is a calm that descends on the tables. A quiet kindergartener focuses on picking the individual seeds out of a triangle of watermelon with a plastic fork and keeping them from flying off his plate.

"Even though we live in the countryside, most of these kids don't have experience with farms," said Ken Coville, superintendent of the Anson school district, where Garrett Schenck is located, and director of food services. "Part of this project is getting them to try new things."

The Greater Somerset County Public Health Collaborative used grant money from the New Balance Foundation here to bring a representative from FoodCorps to the area.

"It's part of a bigger effort in Somerset County to promote school and community gardens," said project director Bill Primmerman. "Gardens are hands-on learning projects that work into so many subjects in school."

The collaborative is also working on a curriculum and teacher training session for schools to come to if they are interested in starting or upkeeping gardens.

Coville said that one of the challenges for school gardens in Maine is the prolonged winters.

"Storage is a problem," he said. "but we do purchase a lot of food from local farmers. I think approaching Backyard Farms and maybe starting our own hydroponic garden can help us get through the winter."

It is a similar approach to what is being done at the Forest Hills Consolidated School in Jackman, a K-12 school with 163 students. Forest Hills and Garrett Schenck are two of the four schools in Somerset County where FoodCorps volunteers started in August.

The school has a one-year-old greenhouse that it also built with grant money and a goal of one day having a self-sufficient cafeteria that runs off the produce they grow themselves in conjunction with local farmers.

"We're a school, not a farm," said Principal Denise Plante. "Getting fresh food here is a problem. The closest farmers' market is 70 miles away in Skowhegan. We can grow some of our own food but we would also like to expand the growing capacity of farmers in our community."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Nancy Holland cuts fresh watermelon for desert at the harvest dinner at Garrett Schenck Elementary School in Anson.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans


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