March 11, 2010



— By

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Gordon Chibroski

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Gordon Chibroski

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Staff Writer

EBANON — Ten-year-old Lindsey Glidden bent over the raised-bed vegetable garden she had carefully planted outside her home in early May, and began asking questions.

''Can I pick the lettuce yet?'' she asked, gazing at four curly-leafed plants glimmering in the sun. ''What about the onions? Do I have to wait all year for them?''

She didn't have to wait long for answers.

''Sure, you can pull a lettuce leaf off right here. But don't pull too hard -- you don't want to get the roots,'' said Joan Shaw of North Berwick, who is volunteering to help Lindsey tend her garden. ''With the onions, you do have to wait if you want big onions. But if you don't mind them smaller, you can pick them anytime. It's your garden.''

Shaw and Ellen Burke of Lebanon are Lindsey's volunteer mentors in a program called Kids Can Grow, run by the York County office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

They and other volunteer mentors meet with 24 children once a month at a garden site run by the cooperative extension in Sanford to dispense gardening lessons and advice. Then they break into teams and work on vegetable gardens they're growing to donate to shelters and food pantries.

About once a week or so, the children get a home visit from their mentor or mentors, as Lindsey did when Shaw and Burke stopped by on Monday.

Founded in 1999 by York County extension educator Frank Wertheim, the program pairs children ages 7 to 12 with volunteers who are studying to become certified master gardeners through the extension. The program runs from April through August.

Wertheim thinks the program is especially relevant today, as environmental concerns and a slumping economy are making more and more people interested in what it takes to grow their own garden.

Some of the children in the program have never gardened. Others have helped their parents. And some, like Lindsey, already knew they liked it.

Around the age of 4, Lindsey announced she wanted to run her own garden center someday, said her mother, Stephanie Glidden. Her mom would have signed her up for Kids Can Grow sooner, but she only found out about the program this year.

''You can't beat the price,'' Stephanie Glidden said. ''For $20, they provided everything: the soil, the plants, the wood for the raised bed. And volunteers come right to the house. I knew Lindsey liked to garden, so I thought this would be a lot of fun for her.''

Lindsey, who is homeschooled, liked learning about how worms help the garden by helping to compost the soil. She also liked picking out the 15 or so crops for her 3-by-5-foot garden, including cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, onions, peppers, snap peas and parsley.

''We eat a lot of salads,'' Lindsey said, standing near her garden on Monday. ''I may pick some of the lettuce tonight, depending on what we're having for dinner.''

Lindsey has also learned about square-foot gardening, which helps maximize space in the garden. With twine, she's divided her garden into 15 one-foot squares to help keep the crops neat and organized.

She knows she can grow 16 onion plants in one of the square-foot plots, but that a tomato plant would take up four.

Lindsey not only planned her garden, she built the raised bed -- nails and all.

''Some of the younger ones need help building the beds,'' Burke said. ''And we might have to point out to them what's a weed and what's not, but they do the work themselves.''

Lindsey asked if a tall, leafy growth near her snap peas was a weed. It was, concurred Shaw and Burke. Milkweed. They watched as Lindsey grabbed it firmly by the base and pulled up the root.

''If you don't get the root, it'll pop right back,'' Shaw said.

Wertheim says he has gotten inquiries from several states about starting similar programs. He says UMaine Cooperative Extension offices in Oxford and Knox counties are planning to start Kids Can Grow programs as well.

Wertheim said the fees the children's families pay don't cover the costs. Much of the money is raised by the York County Master Gardener Association, including through an annual plant sale. More than 150 youngsters have gone through the one-year program since 1999.

''The goal is to teach kids something that can be a lifelong skill, to get them excited about gardening,'' Wertheim said. ''Being able to do it themselves, to make all the decisions, hopefully ignites a passion for gardening that can turn into a lifelong hobby or something more.''

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Gordon Chibroski


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