HOULTON, Maine — This time of year, most students are counting down the last days of school and are not thinking about what they are going to do when they return to school later in the summer.
But students at the Southside School in Houlton were looking ahead last week as they began to nurture a garden that will feed their classmates when they return to school in August.
Lynn Brown, the school health coordinator for SAD 29, said that a group of students has created a vegetable garden behind the school.
“This is the first time we have had a garden here, and the children are very excited,” Brown said last week. “They went right to work.”
The district is made up of students from Houlton, Hammond, Littleton and Monticello.
The school secured a $500 grant from the Harvest Fund of Maine Initiatives, and partnered on the project with University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District.
Approximately 10 students and staff developed the garden using three raised beds planted with cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and other salad staples. Brown said the students were hampered by rain most of last week but are looking to plant more seeds this week, which is the last week of school.
Brown added that she anticipates summer school students and others will help tend the garden this summer.
This is not the first time students at Southside School have tried their hand at growing things. The school has an apple and pear orchard that should bear fruit in a few years.
Brown said the vegetables from the garden would be on the school’s salad bar when students return in August.
For the past several years, the district has taken steps to assure that its students have had healthful school lunches prepared with fresh, local ingredients that are heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on fat.
Several years ago, the menu was revamped to replace less healthful foods, such as chicken nuggets, with more healthful foods, such as skinless chicken breasts. A variety of fruits and vegetables also was offered. A fitness center opened at Houlton High School in 2007, and pupils at Southside School take part in a walking pro-gram.
Earlier this year, a number of students and staff in the district benefited from a grant used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables that were served as a midmorning snack twice a week. Students were given single servings of passion fruits, along with cucumbers, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes served with a low-fat dip.
The district recently learned that the program will continue next year at its two elementary schools and its middle school.
The district also uses locally grown food in its meals whenever possible.