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Stratham Memorial School’s Community Heirloom

By / Photography By Jennifer Bakos | June 28, 2016
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The Making of a Student Garden

Stratham Memorial School is one of the Seacoast’s largest primaries, welcoming almost 600 pre-K through 5th graders annually. And now it has space for each of those students to sink a hand into the dirt. This is a big deal. Not because the idea of a school garden is new, and not because the idea was never before implemented at SMS. It’s a big deal because the energy put into ensuring the longevity of this new garden has made it a community heirloom from the very start.

The potential for a student garden was reintroduced by PTO President Andrea Benson, whose son loved spending time in his previous Massachusetts school garden. SMS Principal Thomas Fosher and Assistant Principal David Goldsmith shared ready, supportive approval and suggested reviewing research on school gardens. By fall 2015, PTO members were finding that garden involvement improves academic outcomes, increases learning enthusiasm, develops relationship appreciation, and nurtures agency and responsibility. But they also found one risk: single-leader dependence, which can sabotage long-term continuation.

To avoid single-leader syndrome, the PTO prepared a collaborative school board presentation. They gathered invaluable lessons from nine New Hampshire school gardens, surveyed parent volunteer potential, found support in Stratham’s 300th year committee, and took guidance from farmers, including Edie Barker of Barker’s Farm, a Stratham staple since 1917. Edie, who shared her knowledge of seeding and rotation schedules, is inspired by the project’s invitation for community and farm-to-table connections: “If we can instill the thought and appreciation for growing produce at a young age, then perhaps it will become a form of lifestyle instead of a hobby for students in the future.”

Winter preparations continued by outlining a teacher-driven ‘curriculum committee’ that will formulate garden-based and gardenintegrating lessons, guided by the forthcoming sabbatical work of third grade teacher Christine Gaudet. A sustainable organic farmer and 37-year veteran educator, Christine sees the garden as “a forum for cross-disciplinary connections” that provides real-life content application and “supports a variety of learning styles and abilities.” The garden currently has six all-needs accessible raised beds and could eventually accommodate 16, one per future inter-grade ‘garden buddy’ classroom pair. This would provide dedicated dirt for all 32 classrooms, a true ‘edible schoolyard.”

Spring called for the most poignant affront to discontinuation—increased student involvement. Guided over winter by art teacher Katelynn Dow, students drew their garden visions, inspiring graphic designer and SMS parent Miren Doody to create two possible logos. Come April’s Earth Day, each student got to propose a garden name and start seeds before finally voting on a logo in early May.

Just weeks prior, Peter Wiggin of Design 1 Landscape donated his blueprint of Andrea’s layout for the garden. Andrea credits the design’s viability to many, including UNH Cooperative Extension’s Ron Christie and Fat Cod Landscapes’ Jenn Gunn, both of whom suggested leaving room for a hoop house that could encapsulate raised beds and extend seasonal production and curriculum-integration potential.

With a student-inspired logo and name to match its footprint, the “SMS Wolves’ Green Growing Lab” broke ground mid-May when Timberland employees built the garden, from fencing to beds to picnic tables. That next night, the Annual PTO Spring Fundraiser benefited the garden, and the following morning, parents and students had a garden party, which Andrea describes fondly: “The best part was seeing so many parents and children working side-by-side. Some were older and doing hard work—moving dirt and wood chips in wheelbarrows, hauling and breaking down brush to add into the bottom of the beds. Others were younger—sanding benches, curious about worms, helping to plant the beds. It was a really beautiful, magical day.” Since then, the PTO’s garden ‘sustainability committee’ has organized rotating volunteers to keep the garden going this summer. (For volunteering opportunities, please email the PTO via cathytallone@hotmail.com)

Invigorated by the altruism they’ve received along the way, the garden’s planners envision forging a collective resource platform for current and prospective Seacoast school gardens. But until then, SMS students are looking forward to an opening ceremony in the fall. They will officially dedicate the garden to SMS’ future and celebrate its place in Stratham’s 300th anniversary year of events, a fitting harvest season tribute to Stratham’s newest heirloom.

Article from Edible New Hampshire at http://ediblenewhampshire.ediblecommunities.com/things-do/stratham-memorial-school-s-community-heirloom
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