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By Susan Olcott
It is often the case that we learn new things when viewing the world through the eyes of a kiddo, who, by nature of their stature, is closer to the earth and notices things that us towering adults breeze right by. Last week, I had the great pleasure of accompanying my daughters on their class field trip from Coffin School to the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Tom Settlemire Community Garden. It was an early autumn day that started out crisp, but turned into a sparkling sunny afternoon.
We were greeted by Lee Cataldo, Outreach & Education Coordinator at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT), and Caroline Eliot, BTLT’s Associate Director. They were better prepared, donning terrific broad-brimmed hats as they introduced the students to the garden. The classes were subdivided into four little pods that were taken to different stations in the garden. I followed Lee’s tour first as she playfully asked the kids to shout out the name of a vegetable they saw. “Can anyone guess what this is?” she asked, holding up an oblong yellow vegetable? Most thought it was a zucchini, but in fact it was a giant cucumber past its prime. Along with most of the students, I didn’t know they turned yellow.
Lee explained that while BTLT owns and manages the garden, much of it is planted and tended by members of the community who volunteer to help the Land Trust growing food for the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program (MHPP). In another area of the garden, community members rent a plot for the season to grow things they didn’t have room or the right conditions for in their own yards.
We carefully followed by path, so as not to squish the bountiful rainbow colored flowers or dangling cherry tomatoes, to the water tanks. Lee pointed out the solar panels that provide the power to pump water up to these tanks so that people can water their garden plots. The kids correctly guessed that the large bins were for compost and pointed out remnants of old plants they could identify on the tops of the heaps. Along the way, we also kept our eyes out for pollinators – bumble bees and lovely butterflies making their way among zinnias and black-eyed Susans decorating the garden.
Next, we were treated to story time in the Sunflower House. Last spring’s first graders planted the ring of sunflowers which had grown to dwarf even the tallest adult. Now, it made for a cozy, shaded spot for their teacher to read a book about sunflowers to them. Afterwards, they collected seeds from the nasturtium flowers growing around the edge to be used in next year’s garden.
Seed collection tied in nicely to the seed exploration station, which was next. Here, the students got to spread out on a blanket and pick seeds out of a variety of pods, guessing what plants they came from. Picking the giant sunflower seeds out of the heads of the flowers was great fun. This gave the students a nice, helpful task and provided a link to the idea that this year’s seeds will become next year’s flowers (which they will return to plant in June).
At our last station they got to taste some of the fruits of the garden. Bowls of yellow and red cherry tomatoes were set out on picnic tables for sampling, and the students got to take turns chopping up apples in the grinder and then pressing it down to squeeze out the cider. I overheard one child say “Wow, look cider came out of just mashed up apple!” The apple trees at the Garden are still too young to produce much (the kids loved learning that the trees are about the same age as first and second graders!), but the generosity of Rocky Ridge Orchard in Bowdoin made the experience possible.
The day provided a wonderful opportunity for students to see both the cycle of seed to plant in action as well as to understand the concept of a community garden that is for those who choose to participate as well as for the benefit of those in need of fresh food. Not everyone has a garden at home and gets to see the magic of fruits and vegetables sprouting right up out of the ground. BTLT has been able to offered this field trip to 250 first graders in the spring and fall of 2017, and hopes to build upon the great success of this pilot year through partnerships in the Brunswick schools.
For more information on the Land Trust’s Tom Settlemire Community Garden, visit www.btlt.org/community-garden.