MACHIAS, Maine — Want junior high-age students to learn some math? Or history or language arts?
Plant a garden.
Ree Anne Bridges, a science teacher at Rose Gaffney School in Machias, says planting peas, radishes and lettuce has given her students a new life experience, planted in them an interest in agriculture, food security and locally grown products, and provided them with real life uses for the skills they are learning in the classroom.
The garden needed to be planned, she said this week, and that is where the math came in. How much soil was needed? How many seeds? How much room did each vegetable variety need to grow?
The history aspect is evident in the Native American garden called the Three Sisters garden. Corn provides a place for the pole beans to climb while squash growing around the base of the corn enriches the soil with nitrogen.
Language arts came in when signs describing the plants, their care, health benefits and common uses were created.
“I have really enjoyed it,” Jeffrey Miller, 15, of Machias said Wednesday. Miller has been known to stay after school as late as 6:30 p.m. to work in the garden.
“I think I’ll continue gardening as an adult,” he said. “You know, invite some friends over to work in the garden.”
Nick Robicheau, 14, of Whitneyville has worked in a family garden with his grandfather since he was 6 years old.
“I helped in this garden with the little kids, helping to plant the peas, showing them to stick their finger in the soil for the hole for the seed and to plant them three fingers apart,” Robicheau said.
Despite all his experience, Robicheau said he learned a lot about companion planting, which is how plants help each other grow.
The students tilled the gravelly area, augmented it with donated soils, planted the seeds and — now that the sprouts are peeking up — do the weeding.
In a small garden shed constructed by the industrial technology program at Machias Memorial High School, student Jodie Wood, 13, of Marshfield was testing the phosphorus and nitrogen content of all the soils on Wednesday.
Karigan Scanlon, 14, of Machias said she helped two groups of younger children work in the garden. She said she had to learn all about the plants and gardening so she could teach the little ones.
Along with a salad bowl garden, the students have a herb garden and are installing a strawberry plot.
The school’s sixth grade class is compiling a cookbook using five or fewer of the garden ingredients.
“The kids are calling this a ‘walking museum’ now,” Bridges said.
She hopes to continue the project and eventually install an outdoor pizza oven.
“The goal is to grow enough to have a salad bar at the school and healthy snacks,” she said.
A farmstand to allow the garden projects to expand and become self-sustaining is also on her wish list.
Meanwhile, she said, students are learning life lessons such as how to cut down water usage, when to exercise solar and wind options and installing a fence to keep deer out.
“There is also a lot of socializing that goes on in the garden,” Bridges said. “It is a different level of communication and getting to know each other.”
Bridges said student, community and staff volunteers will keep the garden maintained throughout the summer.