2012-07-27 / Front Page

High school has its garden spot

Kennebunk joins growing list of schools to start vegetable plots
By Amber Carter
Staff Writer


Paul Drowns, left, a local agriculturist, is assisting with the preparation of a 23,000- square-foot vegetable garden at Kennebunk High School. With Drown, from left, are students Colby Harrison, Brandon Reynolds, Madison Hanson and teacher Melissa Luetje. (Amber Carter photo) Paul Drowns, left, a local agriculturist, is assisting with the preparation of a 23,000- square-foot vegetable garden at Kennebunk High School. With Drown, from left, are students Colby Harrison, Brandon Reynolds, Madison Hanson and teacher Melissa Luetje. (Amber Carter photo) Gardening is not just for women anymore. It is becoming a trend for alternative learning in schools all over Maine and the United States.

Incorporating math, science, hands-on skills and problem solving, Kennebunk High School is teaching its students how to be self reliant.

“You don’t see old ladies building hoop houses,” said Colby Harrison, a Kennebunk High School student and volunteer.

Thanks to grants from Agriculture in the Classroom and the towns of Kennebunk and Arundel, as well as generous donations from local businesses like Estabrook’s Kennebunk, Julia Bertolli from Sweetser, Ramona Snell, Amy LeBlanc from White Hill Farm and the help of Ambidextrous Landscaping, the project has been moving full steam ahead.


Kennebunk High School Interact Club members, from left, Colby Harrison, Brandon Reynolds and Madison Hanson, are helping till and build hoop houses for the Kennebunk High School garden project. Hoop houses are used in gardens to protect plants and extend the growing season. (Amber Carter photo) Kennebunk High School Interact Club members, from left, Colby Harrison, Brandon Reynolds and Madison Hanson, are helping till and build hoop houses for the Kennebunk High School garden project. Hoop houses are used in gardens to protect plants and extend the growing season. (Amber Carter photo) Several volunteers from the Kennebunk High School Interact Club have been assisting alternative learning teacher, Melissa Luetje and agriculturist Paul Drowns in building and maintaining two vegetable gardens.

Interact Club is a service club for youth as part of the Rotary Club. Mainly in high schools, Interact does service projects, outreach and many times travels to underprivileged countries to assist in whatever is needed.

Luetje hopes that this will spin off into a pilot program for the alternative education learning programs at Kennebunk High School.

“Most kids who struggle in the classroom, this is right up their alley,” Luetje said. “This is real-life application. This is why this matters. Hopefully in a year or two it will be self sustaining.”

Drowns agrees the program is a great way to help kids learn about not just building a garden and its components, but to learn how to eat healthier.

“How do you change eating habits?” Drowns said. “You influx the kitchens.”

Half of the crop’s yield will be sold by the Interact Club to raise money for a trip to Guatemala in April. The other half will be donated to the local food pantries in the area. Hopefully some of the future crop will be donated to the high school’s cafeteria to help promote healthy eating habits among the students.

Luetje also hopes the project will expand into maple tree classification and syrup making and beekeeping and making honey. The alternative education classes will also sell these products.

“This will teach the kids practical skills like growing their own food, running a small business and developing a supplemental income,” Luetje said. “They will learn simple things and have the skills to enrich their lives.”

Besides learning to till and cultivate land, the volunteers have learned to build hoop houses, deal with water issues, strengthen their math skills and skills for problem solving.

“They have learned real-life experiences,” Luetje said. “It is a broad spectrum. This is unmatched in problem solving and hands-on skills.”

Drowns agreed with Luetje. “You can apply anything to gardening,” he said. “There is something here for everybody.”

Drowns hopes other students will see what they are doing and also want to get involved with the project, especially with its plans to grow.

“After this becomes cool and totally hip, we will hopefully see more kids involved,” he said.

Drowns, with 20 years of cooking experience, also hopes to help out the food service staff at the high school.

This is a real community project, said Drowns, who estimates by next year the garden will yield between 11,000 and 15,000 pounds of crops to turn back to the community. He sees the students leaving the project with a sense of achievement.

“By the end of the season there will be a strong sense of empowerment and accomplishment,” he said. I’ve been gardening my whole life and taught food quality for 20 years. Kids are going to change the world.”

And he is right. The students involved really get down and dirty. Arriving at 7 a.m. and staying until about noon, they feel a sense of pride in their work.

“I really enjoy gardening now,” said Madison Hanson, a Kennebunk High School student. “It literally started from the ground up. It’s small projects inside a larger one.”

Fellow students Branden Reynolds and Harrison agree with Hanson. “It is definitely a group effort,” Reynolds said. “It’s farming.”

“It is good to get out and work here,” said Harrison. “It is hard work, but it’s fun.”

Luetje is right there with the students. We’ve had setbacks, but we are doing our best,” she said. “This is going to be so cool once everything is done.”

Staff Writer Amber Carter can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 233.

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