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Troy Howard MS Garden Project: A Sustainable, Successful School Program

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THMS Garden Project | BDN
THMS Garden Project | BDN
Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project students with ribbons won at this year's Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.

On Thursday, October 20 at 6:30 pm in the Abbott Room of the Belfast Free Library, located at 106 High Street, the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition (BBWC) is hosting a free program with the Troy Howard Middle School (THMS) Garden Project. All are welcome.

This event provides an opportunity to meet Garden Project founders and successors who have created and run this nationally renowned educational program in our local school district, as well as students currently engaged in this unique hands-on learning experience. During the evening, the THMS Garden Project will receive the BBWC Conservation Award; given every four to six years to an individual or group which has shown outstanding achievement in conservation. There will also be an opportunity to purchase garden produce from this year’s bounty and seeds.

In 2000, educators Steve Tanguay, Don White, and Linda Hartkopf launched the THMS Garden Project as a creative, interdisciplinary approach to achieving learning standards which provides students with long-term, meaningful lessons. A departure from school-as-usual, it has been written up on websites like the Center for Ecoliteracy in California, and published in the book Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability, as an example to emulate in schools around the country.

Sixteen years later, the project has a heated greenhouse, newly installed solar panels, kitchen with outdoor wood-fired cob oven, expanded gardens, and composting area for both cafeteria and garden waste. Jon Thurston, co-founder of the Medomak Valley High School Heirloom Seed Project, carried the project after its founders moved on until his recent retirement. The current educator is David Wessels.

Students run the business of ordering seeds, tools, and other needs, which they pay for with proceeds from their seedling, hanging basket, and seed packet sales in spring, farm stand sales during the growing months, and selling greens grown in the greenhouse to the Belfast Co-op throughout the winter. They also supply the school cafeteria with produce, amounting to over 1,000 pounds last year. With supervision, students learn the practical skills of accounting and budgeting.

Students save seeds from year to year for replanting, and for sale in seed packets they design and create in art class. They tap trees and boil sap for maple syrup, press apple cider and prepare applesauce, donate produce to the Belfast Soup Kitchen, and produce an annual garden-related art show each for a month-long exhibit in the Belfast Co-op’s cafe. At this year’s Common Ground Country Fair, Garden Project students won 43 blue ribbons for their vegetables.

The Garden Project is commended by the Maine State Board of Education, federally recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and internationally known as a member of Seed Savers International. The BBWC will honor the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project with its Conservation Award for the Project’s emphasis on conservation, community connections, and relevant, well-rounded education.

The Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition is a Belfast-based, member-driven nonprofit which supports conservation and stewardship of natural and public resources of the Belfast Bay watershed through research, community-building, and education. Their field trips, programs, and meetings are free and open to all. To learn more, visit their website at: The Belfast Bay watershed consists of the Goose River, Little River, Passagassawakeag River, and Wescot Stream watersheds totaling 69,656 acres and 108.8 square miles.