A tiny seed holds the promise of becoming something beautiful, healthy and nourishing. Similarly, the learning gardens supported by St. Mary’s Nutrition Center not only flourish as learning hubs, but they also continually yield even greater returns for kids than expected.
An Outdoor, Hands-on Classroom
“The gardens provide an outdoor classroom that helps students connect to the natural world, as well as build connections to others and their own stories,” said Kirsten Walter, Director, St. Mary’s Nutrition Center.
Located at four elementary schools and other community locations in the Lewiston–Auburn area, these productive plots are tended by school-age children, teachers and community partners and serve as a platform to teach important life lessons. During hands-on lessons, elementary schoolers gain a love of science and nature while learning the important skill of growing their own food. Designed with learning in mind, the gardens include raised beds, sheds and kiosks, and activity areas complete with picnic tables.
Teachers may choose from ready-made “garden kit” lessons prepared by the Nutrition Center covering topics like bud exploration and identification or create their own. It’s not unusual to see students huddled together in the garden, excitedly sharing ideas with each other about what shoot just popped up. They ask all sorts of interesting questions; which teachers fully encourage.
Partnerships, Clubs and Summer
Partnerships between FoodCorps Maine, the Nutrition Center and school cafeteria management teams mean produce is used to create kid-friendly recipes. Taste tests expose students to new foods who may not have access to healthy, fresh food and snacks at home.
After-school gardening clubs and summer school programs also make great use of the learning gardens. In 2021, more than 2,000 elementary students participated in garden education programs and 2,700 “tastes” were completed in cafeteria taste tests.
Nutrition Center partners like ReTreeUS, the City of Lewiston, Lewiston High School and Next STEP, helped expand an existing orchard in Lewiston by adding 50 new fruit trees to it.
“Now a substantial orchard, this green oasis is enjoyed by local residents and will be used for educational opportunities and access to fresh fruit for many years to come,” said Walter.
To learn more about learning gardens, community gardens and other important St. Mary’s Nutrition Center initiatives and programs, please call 207.513.3848.