Maine educators taking agriculture lessons back to the classroom

Posted Aug. 10, 2010, at 4:32 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Two dozen Maine educators and school chefs went back to college this week at the Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Summer Institute.

From creating skits about growing carrots, to cutting up an apple, to visiting blueberry barrens and salmon aquaculture pens, the educators are hoping to translate their experiences into classroom lessons.

The teachers came from Aroostook to Portland, from private schools to large school districts, and represented children from pre-kindergarten to high school.

Greg Huang-Dale, who teaches English as a second language at Fryeburg Academy, said the school year makes working on a school garden difficult. “But we have come up with a new schedule next year that offers a May term,” he said. “I’ll be offering an elective course in sustainability. I’m really excited.”

Christine Caputo provides an alternative education program for high school students at the Real School on Mackworth Island at Portland.

“We are working on a school garden on the island and I’m here to learn how to get kids interested,” she said.

Part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, the classroom program helps teachers make connections with the state’s farming and fishing industries.

“One hundred years ago, everyone worked and lived on a farm,” Willie Sawyer Greenier, the program’s director, said Tuesday. “Today, very few people live on a farm. In that intervening time, agriculture education lapsed. We are just now catching up.”

Greenier said it is her job to make connections for the teachers, from chemistry to seeds, to allow today’s students to learn about where their food comes from and how it gets on their plates.

“Agriculture education is not in the Maine Learning Results,” Greenier said. “It is not in the national standards. But it is in the kids’ lives, from the sheets they sleep on to the lunch they eat to the buses they ride to school.”

Greenier said teachers can use agriculture to teach all subjects, from math to history. “If we don’t teach kids about agriculture, they are missing a huge part of their own lives.”

This is the first year the institute has come Down East. The program, which runs Aug. 9-13 starts with breakfast at 7 in the morning and continues through the dinner at 7 p.m. each day, with the meals all part of the training. There’s classroom time and field trips.

“You are going to see a lot of challenges,” Greenier told the teachers. “That’s what farming is all about. Agriculture is a dance with nature.”

Monday night the teachers created “dirt shirts,” tie-dying T-shirts using different soils. On Tuesday, they used their own breakfasts to determine which food groups were represented, they made up skits about food production, they conducted a taste test and learned how to incorporate such tests into lesson plans, and they discussed creating window box gardens in their classrooms.

Events planned for the rest of the week include learning to knit (for fiber lessons), a resource fair, meals planned around local foods, a visit with a tree farmer, tours of the county’s diverse food production system, and instruction on the importance of seeds and bees.

Also scheduled is a visit with Don Sprangers of Washington Academy in East Machias, the 2007 Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year, who will discuss his bio-fuel, school greenhouse and sustainable living programs for middle and high school students.

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