2017-08-18 / Front Page

Teens hope for bountiful harvest

Surplus produce will be given to Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Local students, from left, Nick Albaum, Garrett Erickson-Harris, and Kevin Finn, in eighth-grade at Middle School of the Kennebunks in this photo, check seedlings for a produce garden they created as part of a community service project. Although the boys will begin high school in the fall, they plan to cap off the effort with an Aug. 25 produce drive at the middle school. Gardeners are asked to drop off surplus fresh produce, which will be shared with the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford. (Courtesy photo) Local students, from left, Nick Albaum, Garrett Erickson-Harris, and Kevin Finn, in eighth-grade at Middle School of the Kennebunks in this photo, check seedlings for a produce garden they created as part of a community service project. Although the boys will begin high school in the fall, they plan to cap off the effort with an Aug. 25 produce drive at the middle school. Gardeners are asked to drop off surplus fresh produce, which will be shared with the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford. (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNK — For most teens, summer means time off from school projects, but three area students have kept their noses to the grindstone — or, more correctly, their fingers in the soil.

Nick Albaum, Garrett Erickson-Harris, and Kevin Finn have already graduated from the Middle School of the Kennebunks (MSK) and are bound for high school in the fall. So, technically, their eighth-grade service project is complete.


Local students Nick Albaum, left, and Kevin Finn, pose in the produce garden they tended this year at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Together with classmate Garrett Erickson-Harris, they donated their bounty to the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford. They plan to cap off their service project with an Aug. 25 produce drive at the middle school. (Courtesy photo) Local students Nick Albaum, left, and Kevin Finn, pose in the produce garden they tended this year at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Together with classmate Garrett Erickson-Harris, they donated their bounty to the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford. They plan to cap off their service project with an Aug. 25 produce drive at the middle school. (Courtesy photo) Still, their efforts to feed the hungry did not yield quite as much produce as they had hoped, leaving them deep into summer still wanting to follow through on their original vision, even though they are under no obligation to anything but their own collective consciences.

The three boys created a garden located outside the middle school with the idea of donating their bounty to the food pantry at the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford. They later elected to supplement their own offerings by collecting surplus fruits and vegetables from other area gardeners. Despite staging six separate collection days, the take was meager at best. And so, on Friday, Aug. 25, just days before entering Kennebunk High School, the trio will make one final attempt to fulfill the promise of their middle school project.

“There is not really a specific grade on this, like on most things,” Finn explained on Monday. “It was a lot more about the process. What they care about is the effort you make, and we’ve already gotten our feedback. But we knew we wouldn’t be ready for harvest before school ended. And because what we collected so far was really not huge, we just wanted to finish strong, even though nobody is making us.”

“I think that is a testament to these three kids,” said their project advisor, MSK history teacher Nathan Bean. “They’re all really great kids who are determined to do everything they can to make their community a better place.”

As the middle years co-coordinator for RSU 21’s International Baccalaureate program, Bean has seen that attitude on display many times.

“I think one of the things that’s been really cool about implementing this community project component the last three years is that we’ve seen several groups of students take a real sense of ownership over what they were doing and really strive to carry that forward beyond the formal end of the project,” he said. “It is really neat to see a group of kids find a way to connect the things they care about and are passionate about with ways to serve their community.”

The service projects are a curriculum requirement thanks to MSK’s status as an International Baccalaureate school. After being staged as a pilot program in 2015, the projects became a must-complete requirement for all Grade 8 students the following year. Starting each December, students began working on their projects outside of school in groups of twos and threes, and in some cases flying solo. The projects are self-directed efforts conceived and executed by the students, and are designed to give back to the Kennebunks community while also serving as a capstone to their learning experience at MSK.

The projects finish with presentations to sixth-grade students, in which the students describe what they did, how they did it, and what the learned as a result.

“We did not get as big of a turnout as we were hoping for, so I think we definitely learned we should have advertised more,” Finn said.

“It was harder to keep people’s attention than we expected,” Albaum agreed. “We handed out cards earlier in the spring but I guess it was hard for people to remember. We did hope for two good-sized boxes of food, but we didn’t really get much of anything.”

A lack of success can sometimes breed discontent, and the boys agree an additional learning component of the project involved figuring out how to function successfully as a team — an experience they expect to prove useful later in life when they enter the workforce.

“We were together on this project for a while and we had a couple of disagreements,” Albaum said, “but we managed to get through the problems and work better as team.”

It was Albaum who suggested the garden idea, based on his interest in an eventual career in plant genetics.

“The idea was to give what we grew to some shelter because we’ve all seen people who don’t have a lot of food, and a lot of the food that is shared at shelters is not fresh organic food. It’s canned and dried, or whatever,” Finn said. “We wanted to help bring some healthy, nutritious food to them. And since we all love nature, we wanted to get together and start a garden.”

The idea to give to Seeds of Hope specifically was suggested by Bean, a Biddeford resident, the boys say.

“I’ve served on city committees with people who are on the board for that group, and so when the boys were in the brainstorming stage, I suggested that as an organization I knew of that might have a need,” Bean said.

Founded in 2008, Seeds of Hope is located in the former Christ Church at 35 South St. in Biddeford. A nonprofit, non-sectarian charity, the center serves free breakfast and lunch five days a week to all comers in need.

It also offers new and used winter clothing as well as health and education programming, along with access to other support services and job search tools to help people get back on the road to self-sufficiency .

The students began their quest to aid the center by growing seedlings with an eye toward transplanting them into their own space at the West Kennebunk Community Gardens. Unfortunately, all space there was already spoken for. Instead, they adopted a 12- by 3-foot plot just outside MSK, a garden space previously tilled by another teacher, who allowed the boys to make use of the plot. There there grew peas, squash and tomatoes.

“It was pretty fun,” Albaum said. “It was a good excuse to go outside during our GLT [guided learning time, a.k.a. study hall].”

Luckily, most students respected the garden and let the plants grow undisturbed.

“My brother did eat a couple of our peas, but other than that we’ve been good,” Finn said.

Still, the modest garden only had space enough for seven tomato plants, so the boys began handing out food request cards at blood drives and other school events.

“We know a lot of people grow more in their gardens then they actually eat. So, one of our idea was to eliminate food waste,” Finn said. “We don’t want people throwing it out when we can put it to good use and take it to the people who need it.”

As the boys have related, six food drives staged during the first two week’s of August drew an anemic response. Still, the boys are hopeful one final attempt can help to fill food pantry shelves and hungry bellies alike.

“Even though we did not get the results we wanted so far, we realized through doing this project that we can make a big difference in the community and help a lot of struggling people just by doing something simple like sharing our time and things that that we already have enough of — that it’s really easy to make a difference and help someone out in a big way.”

“It made us feel good to help people,” Finn said. “It was mostly a fun experience for us. We all had a good time doing it. We just wanted to see it though.”

“When we started this project we told ourselves we were going to follow through with it and we wouldn’t be satisfied until we had donated as much as we possibly could,” Albaum said.

Food Drive

Three area students are collecting donations of fresh produce from local gardens, which they plan to pass on to the food pantry at the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center in Biddeford. Donations will be accepted from 9 to 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 25, at Middle School of the Kennebunks.

For more information, confirm contributions or make arrangements for alternate pick-up, email growinggivinggarden@gmail.com.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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