When Old Town Elementary School started a school garden many years ago, the purpose was to beautify the school grounds and give students a chance to explore and play in a more natural setting. Since then, the garden concept has literally “grown” as the school has started to use the garden as an opportunity to integrate the space into the day-to-day curriculum. In conjunction with the Cooperative Extension Staff at the University of Maine, the school has developed a Legacy Curriculum, with each grade growing and caring for different crops.
Starting in kindergarten, students grow apples and sunflowers. They plant their apple trees in the spring and watch as they blossom and grow different apple varieties, which they can taste in the fall. They also plant their sunflowers in the spring and use them for a kindness project, where they gift the flowers to people to brighten up their days.
First graders make seed tape indoors with carrots and radishes. A month before school ends, they plant their radishes and have a harvest on the last day of school. To demonstrate that different plants take different amounts of time to develop, they plant their carrots in the last week of school and harvest them when they come back to school in the fall, when they have taste tests with different dips and cooking methods.
Second graders grow pumpkins. They weigh and measure the circumference of their pumpkins and collect seeds to cook as well as to plant. They learn how to prepare pumpkin in a healthy, easy, low-cost way that they can bring home to family. On the last day of school each year, they compare their pumpkins’ growth rates.
In third grade, students grow various microgreens indoors under a grow lamp. They can taste test the different greens and vote on their favorites. After the votes are collected, they graph and analyze the results to see which one was the most popular.
Finally, when students reach fourth grade, they grow single seed potatoes. They cut them in half – planting one half in the school garden and one half in a container they bring home to care for over the summer. Once the potatoes are ready, students harvest them and prepare multiple healthy potato recipes and vote on their favorites, which they then graph.
Old Town Elementary Schools educators say they have seen a great sense of pride and joy with their students and their role in the growing their grade levels product. Since this change in the curriculum, the students and staff see the garden as an extension of the classroom. Students take pride in planting and harvesting the bounty, even creating an opportunity on Tuesday afternoons to contribute to the school’s farm stand. The farm stand, which is open to both Old Town Elementary School families and the public, has created a great opportunity for the school to impact their citizens and provide a great resource to be proud of, a resource that would be possible without their learning garden.