A collaborative effort in Damariscotta is giving Great Salt Bay Community School students the resources to think locally about food thanks to a newly established school garden plot at Round Top Farm.
“I see this space as a way to connect the students to their community, thinking in terms of what to grow there in regards to what the community needs,” Margaret Coleman, agriculture coordinator at Great Salt Bay Community School, said.
The 1,200-square-foot garden plot is the result of a collaboration between the Great Salt Bay Community School, Twin Villages Foodbank Farm and the Damariscotta River Association. While the garden itself is still in the early stages, work has been underway since the summer to prepare it for student growing this spring and summer.
Margaret Coleman said the idea is to have the crops grown at the Round Top Farm school garden be donated to area food banks, used in the school cafeteria or sent back with students in need of food on the weekends.
“[The new garden] provided us this opportunity to connect to the community, to connect to the food system,” fourth-grade teacher Chris Coleman, Margaret Coleman’s husband, said. “The big thing is this community service piece.”
The Great Salt Bay Community School has a few existing raised garden beds on school grounds, but the idea for a larger and more community-integrated plot that students could use came about after Sarah Cawthon of Twin Villages Foodbank Farm told Margaret Coleman she was interested in starting a smaller garden on Round Top Farm, which is centrally located next to a farmers market and near the school.
Having Great Salt Bay Community School students take over the garden project seemed like the perfect fit.
“It just made sense,” Cawthon said.
The Damariscotta River Association owns Round Top Farm and is donating the garden plot for Great Salt Bay Community School students and teachers to use. The Damariscotta River Association is the fiscal sponsor of Twin Villages Foodbank Farm, which donates all of its harvested crops to Lincoln County food banks and operates on farmland owned by the Damariscotta River Association on Belvedere Road.
The Damariscotta River Association is a land trust focused on preserving the land around the estuary of the Damariscotta River, and it has worked with area schools in the past.
Steven Hufnagel, executive director of the Damariscotta River Association, said the new school garden aligns perfectly with the association’s mission to promote the community around the land.
“You’re connecting school kids with this rich natural and human history,” Hufnagel said.
A trail system for public use exists on Round Top Farm, but Hufnagel said a trail will be made that goes from the garden plot to the school so students and teachers can safely travel the five-minute walk to the farm.
Margaret Coleman is excited about the opportunity that the new garden poses for expanding agriculture education beyond the raised beds students have been working with at the school. Given the limited space in the raised beds, she envisions that the new space at Round Top Farm and the possibility of expanding the size of the plot will allow for students to have more room to experiment with different crops and the ability to grow a larger amount of each item.
“There is tons of potential,” Margaret Coleman said. “The more space you have, the more you can experiment and just see where the interest is sparked for various teachers and students.”
Great Salt Bay Community School belongs to the Alternative Organization Structure 93 school district, and the district is funding the garden project, though Twin Villages Foodbank Farm will assist with equipment in any way they can. Work began on preparing the plot this summer.
Margaret Coleman and Sarah Cawthon planted a cover crop of oats, peas and vetch to serve as a cover crop to help develop the soil and protect the area from weeds. This fall, Chris Coleman’s students planted a crop of garlic at the plot.
Going forward, Margaret Coleman evisions the new plot, and it’s community service mission, as a project and an education tool that can serve students and teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade at the school.
This winter, students in interested classrooms will begin looking through seed catalogs, which is an educational experience of its own, according to Margaret Coleman, giving them an opportunity to expand their view of plants.
“For some, it will be the first time that they’ve thought not just about what a plant looks like,” she said.
In late winter, going into spring, Margaret Coleman and other teachers will work to grow seedlings for the garden. Once it is time to get back in the garden, she said she’ll work with teachers to find where the interest lies in where they want to work garden lessons into the curriculum.
Chris Coleman said as an educator first, and an interested gardener second, agriculture can be used to teach every lesson in some way.
“I can cover everything in the grade. I can do science. I can do engineering things. There is a lot of math involved,” he said. “It’s my favorite classroom.”