Another Successful Year of Maine’s Agriculture in the Classroom Summer Institute

There may only be one place where a teacher can make mozzarella cheese, tend to beehives, and take a virtual farm tour on the same day, the Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Summer Institute. In August, more than 25 educators came together for a 3-day institute at the University of Maine to engage in workshops that focused on including aquaculture facilities, school gardens, the research farm, and more. Educators developed new partnerships and formed ideas for integrating agriculture into their classrooms.

Maine DOE’s MLTI Ambassador, Erik Wade, shared resources on creating virtual tours, demonstrated the usefulness of virtual tours in bringing agriculture into the classroom, and shared resources for educators and students to develop their own tours and engage students in the creation process. Wade’s session also shared resources in agriculture game-based resources that educators can use with students to “gamify” their classrooms and engage students in agricultural simulations.

If you are interested in learning more about virtual tours, game-based agricultural simulations, or integrating technology into your garden or outdoor space, contact MLTI Ambassador, Erik Wade, at erik.wade@maine.gov.

Bridging the Gap Between Rural Farms and School Nutrition: Maine Kicks Off First Farm and Sea to School Institute

The Maine Department of Education served alongside many state-wide partners in organizing Maine’s first Farm and Sea to School Institute which launched last month bringing together teams from 3 different school districts at the Ecology School in Saco.

The event is the kick-off of a year-long opportunity in which the 3 districts will develop a values-based, school-wide farm & sea to school action plan that integrates curriculum, local food sourcing, youth voice, equity and inclusion, and family and community connections, all unique to their school community. The 3 districts participating in the first institute are MSAD 17 (Oxford Hills), RSU 22 (Hampden), and RSU 89 (Katahdin). They applied for the opportunity in January 2022.

The institute was hosted as a collaborative effort among farm to school practitioners, advocates, and supporters throughout Maine who are all part of Maine’s Farm and Sea to School Network (MFSN).

The 3 teams are comprised of school nutrition staff, educators, and students who will be working to co-develop and implement agriculture, gardening, and/or nutrition related programming at their school. The student members on each team are UMaine college mentors trained in youth leadership via 4H STEM Ambassador Program – this component of the Institute is to both incorporate student voice and provide an extended learning opportunity for Maine students.

The 3-day kick-off event was a chance for the teams to come together for the first time and start planning, have the opportunity to meet the other teams, and begin work with state-wide partners and coaches. They participated in a wide array of activities including learning about planting specific crops that are easy to grow without maintenance. Given that schools are typically out of session during prime garden-growing season, this option allows for a “set it and forget it” style of growing vegetables.

Richard Hodges from ReTreeUS, a nonprofit that plants orchards and provides education and resources to schools specifically, showcases seed packets with pumpkin, Mexican sunflower, and popping corn seeds, among others, which he explained will help school staff grow enough food to be used in school cafeterias without a lot of maintenance. Hodges also showed participants how to plant a peach tree during his workshop and tour of the gardens.

Other workshops included learning about Incorporating Local Agriculture into Classroom Curricula, Building Sustainability through the district budget, finding local foods, how to promote school efforts, food security, and an institute-wide workshop with Racial Equity & Justice Organization, among many other workshops. The three-day event also provided lodging, locally sourced meals, and plenty of team time for participants to engage in conversation and work together to begin their action plans, all while enjoying the serene Ecology School campus.

Following the kick-off event, the districts teams will continue to engage in workshops designed around school specific roles throughout the year and continue work with an experienced coach from the Maine Farm to School Network to develop their school-wide farm & sea to school action plan.

Funded by a USDA Service-Learning Grant, the MFSN group is working to secure funding for future Institutes. Read more about it here. Pending more funding, the Farm and Sea to School Institute expects to open applications for year-two of the institute in January 2023. Read more about the application and selection process here.

Maine Agriculture in the Classroom 2023 Teacher of the Year Applications Open

Each year at its annual meeting, Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) recognizes an outstanding Maine elementary or secondary school teacher who uses agricultural education materials and/or activities in the classroom to teach core subjects.

The winning teacher is then required to submit—with MAITC’s help—an application for a National Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award and attends the National AITC Conference.

Applications are due October 3, 2022 .

The application (and more info) can be found on the MAITC website. For further questions, reach out to MAITC at  (207)287-5522 or maitca@maine.gov. For more news and updates from MAITC, sign up for their newsletter.

Old Town Elementary School ‘Learning Garden’ Becomes an Extension of the Classroom

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.

Free One-Day National Conference for Educators: Virtual State of Agriculture

Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MACITC) is offering a FREE Professional Development Opportunity from National Agriculture in the Classroom and CHS Foundation. The Virtual State of Agriculture is a one-day virtual conference on July 28th from 10:00am – 5:45pm (ET).

The conference will will feature a keynote address from the award-winning author Peggy Thomas. Sessions will feature a variety of agricultural subjects and interests for all grade levels. There are two session tracks, one for elementary and one for secondary, and participants can switch back and forth to any session that interests them.

Join us for a day sure to leave you with valuable agricultural literacy resources and excitement for the new school year!

Learn more and register here.

For more information reach out to Maine Agriculture in the Classroom at P: 207.287.5522 or E: maitc@maine.gov.