The Ecology School instructor K.K. Schulz talks to Saco Middle School 7th Grade students about food production in an outdoor session one day last week. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — Flour, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon all originate from plants. How do they get from their origins to your kitchen cupboard? That’s what some students from Saco learned about recently.

Mixed together, the ingredients made a tasty crumb cake for at least one class of grade seven students from Saco Middle School who were at The Ecology School a week ago. They — and other seventh grade students as the week went on — spent a couple of days learning how the ingredients got from the fields where they were grown to the kitchen.

As the spent their days in the great outdoors and sleeping in the dorms on campus at night, the students got a lesson in food systems from instructor K.K. Schulz.

Saco Middle School Grade 7 students examine what’s on the forest floor during lessons at The Ecology School one day last week. Courtesy/Kivalo Photography

On one day lunch, Schulz noted, was rice, vegetables, and beans, among other tasty foodstuffs.

“They all came from somewhere,” she said.

“And we ate it in one hour,” said a student.


The lessons taught last week were among many offered to students from Saco, 18 other Maine Schools, and others from across New England since The Ecology School was founded in 1998. They offer in-school sessions, day camps and vacation camps, with E-STEM (which stands for environmental science, technology, engineering and math) themes, said communications and marketing manager Amalie Sonneborn. As part of an agreement with the city of Saco, The Ecology School offers $45,000 in free programming to Saco schools and the Parks and Recreation Department annually, she said.

“Over the course of their stay, students draw connections between ecosystems, notice patterns in the world around them, and witness natural processes such as cycles, change, and disturbance at work in different ecosystems,” said Sonneborn.

“As teachers we loved being able to connect with our students over family style meals, participating in the lessons and having some downtime enjoying activities together,” said Saco Middle School’s Melissa Gosselin, one of the grade seven educators whose students attended the program. “The Ecology School is a living and learning experience, where learning outside opens a student’s mind to the connections of nature and humans. This connection is important for young people to help them understand their place in the world, contributions and responsibility of how humans use the resources of Earth.”

While in class in their outdoor setting, the students took out their field notebooks and set to work.

“It’s your turn to brainstorm the process,” said Schulz, instructing the young people to name their favorite food, and then trace the steps of how it got to their home.

Students Olivia Schmidt and Fatimah Salam both chose vanilla ice cream, while Wyatt Libby went for cake.


Student Macy Pelletier said her favorite food is crab Rangoon, and she named some of the ingredients, cream cheese, crab, and in the version she enjoys, spinach.

How often does Pelletier get to enjoy crab Rangoon?

“Not enough,” she said.

Students explored how food is grown, harvested, in most cases sent to a factory for processing and packaging, and then on to a retail outlet.

“I didn’t think how much it would take to make red velvet cake,” said student Emma Dumont.

As the sun shone down on the students sitting outside on the grass, they listened and watched as Schulz began cutting slices of apple, illustrating how much space on Earth is available to grow food.

At the end, she was left with a tiny slice.


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