Starting a school garden can come with some pretty tough challenges.
For one, it takes the help of volunteers, who may already be tied up with other commitments at the school. Plus, somebody has to take care of the garden during summer, when school is closed.
Still, people involved with school gardens across Maine say they are uniquely rewarding and can be part of just about any subject a school teaches.
To show people what school gardens are all about, the Maine School Garden Network will be hosting its first School Garden Open House on Saturday at more than a dozen gardens across the state. Events will be free and open to the public.
“We want the gardens to have more community awareness and more support, because it takes a lot of support and volunteers to run a school garden,” said Kat Coriell, a retired veterinarian from Durham and chairperson of the network.
Coriell says the network has about 40 registered member gardens, but some people estimate there are about 200 school or school-related gardens in the state. Part of their popularity is due to the emphasis on fresh and local foods, and some of the gardens grow food for use in the school cafeteria.
But a larger reason, Coriell thinks, is that a school garden can be used as a hands-on learning ground in many subjects, from science and math to history, art and language arts.
“It’s about getting kids outside, but it’s also something that every teacher in the school can incorporate,” said Coriell.
The Maine School Garden Network began a few years ago as a resource for people who wanted to start school gardens. It began as an offshoot of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association but now runs on its own, Coriell said.
Every school garden is a little different, ranging from a small flower garden or vegetable patch to larger operations with greenhouses.
Some of the school gardens that will be open during School Garden Open House Day are:
• The Wiscasset Primary School Garden at Morris Farm will be open from 10 a.m. to noon with dairy goats, calves, rabbits and chickens to pet. There will also be a cider press that will squeeze apples from the schoolyard, and free snacks made from produce harvested by students out of the garden during Maine Harvest Lunch Week.
• The Georgetown Central School’s garden will be open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The school’s wood-fired outdoor pizza oven will be up and running, cooking pizzas with homemade sauce and vegetables. There will also be samples of pasta with a variety of sauces. Families are invited to tour the garden and greenhouse, and children will be able to construct fairy houses, make leaf rubbings, sample the harvest and play games.
• The L.O.C.A.L. Garden for Regional School Unit No. 1 will be open in Bath from 10 a.m. to noon. There will be a garlic planting lesson at 10 a.m. and a composting workshop at 11 a.m. There will also be pumpkin bread and apple cider.
• The Troy Howard Middle School garden in Belfast will have tours of the gardens, composting operations, a heated greenhouse and a new solar outdoor kitchen. The tours will be given by seventh- and eighth-graders, who will also answer questions. Garden organizers hope to serve dips and salsa made from ingredients from the garden.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: