September is an ideal time to plant certain crops in Maine, such as salad greens, kale, chard, parsley, cilantro, and spinach, that can fill cafeteria salad bars and food pantries in some instances. The Back to School Garden approach aligns school gardens with the school calendar by making well- established, cold-hardy vegetable seedlings available to schools in August and September.
United Charitable, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has been awarded a 2021 USDA Farm to School Turnkey Grant through its program, ReTreeUS. This grant will enable ReTreeUS to support 10 schools throughout the state of Maine with ReTreeUS’ Back to School Garden program.
This program helps resolve issues confronting school gardens, especially summer maintenance, while increasing productivity to generate abundant harvests for cafeterias and maximizing garden learning opportunities.
Garden based lessons include decomposition, soil building, successional planting, and season extension.
ReTreeUS is also using funding from Hannaford and other sources to be able to reach a total of 15 schools. The schools benefiting from the program include Atwood Primary School, Auburn Middle School, Captain Albert Stevens School, Connors Elementary School, Ellsworth Middle School, Hollis Elementary School, Indian Township School, Lee Academy, Lewiston High School, Manchester School, Park Avenue Elementary School, Thomaston Grammar School, Walker Elementary School, Wentworth School and Williams Elementary School.
A step by step guide can be found on the ReTreeUS website https://www.retree.us/back-to-school-garden-guide but here is a basic summary: Preparation for this gardening technique starts in the spring before the school year ends. ReTreeUS teaches students to “sheet- mulch” garden beds using paper and compost that will eliminate weeds and increase fertility over the summer.
Students also seed popping corn, pumpkins, and winter squash in these mulched beds that will grow through the summer, with minimal maintenance, and will be ready for harvest when they go back to school. After this harvest, beds will be ready for students to plant hardy seedlings sourced by ReTreeUS from local farms and delivered to the schools.
These hardy seedlings will thrive for the months of September, October, November, and December, with the season extending row cover that the program provides. During winter, these seedlings can continue to grow in a greenhouse. The USDA Farm to School Turnkey Grant is making it possible for ReTreeUS to pilot additional support for teachers and resources for school gardens at 10 schools including a kit containing row cover, a salad spinner, food grade harvest crates, storage bins, scales and scissors.
Collaborators on this effort include Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC), Maine School Garden Network (MSGN) and Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative (IRSSC). MAITC is helping increase educational opportunities for students and providing lessons that align with learning standards. IRSSC will help raise awareness of the program and help create ongoing fundraising opportunities for the program. Seedlings were grown by Wolfe’s Neck Center and Mountain Heartbeet Farm.
Link to video about this years program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sy3VB_YBP9I
This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.