BUCKFIELD — Much of Western Maine and the state know about the large, educational, productive vegetable garden at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School.
Now, the entire country does.
Gretchen Kimball, a seventh-grade language arts teacher, and Annette Caldwell, an eight-grade math teacher, were recognized Wednesday morning at the State House in Augusta by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for receiving one of only five nationwide awards for Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture.
For seven days, starting June 20, the two teachers will attend workshops in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at the 2011 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. It will likely give them even more ideas for teaching students to problem solve through gardening and other agricultural practices. Not that they need them.
The two teachers, with the support of school staff, community and students began their ambitious plans to teach through agriculture three years ago.
Since then, the two have successfully received grants for a greenhouse where students start many seedlings, for a composting facility, and for a vegetable stand, among other ventures.
Next year, the two plan to start a beekeeping operation for pollination of the crops, and the production of honey. Later, they hope to construct an outdoor classroom.
The idea for the garden came about three-and-a-half years ago when Kimball and Caldwell reviewed the results of a survey of Oxford County students that showed obesity was a problem.
“We decided to grow a garden,” said Kimball, who also grows vegetables at home.
The project has grown over the years, as has the recognition of the school’s success with it. That recognition, particularly with the national award, and earlier, with the state award for operating the best agricultural educational project in the state, is the major satisfaction for Caldwell and Kimball.
“It brings recognition to our school, students and staff,” Kimball said.
Caldwell said people have responded to the garden’s success by offering to write additional grants and some businesses have offered to give new products to try.
Most of the seeds are donated, and at least one area farm provides organic fertilizer.
In addition to selling some of the produce at the vegetable stand, which will open sometime in July, some is used in the school’s cafeteria and for the school’s annual public harvest supper.
Although middle school students are the primary “laborers” and learners in the garden, high school and elementary students have also helped out.
The two teachers said students in the summer school program will help maintain the garden during July, and Kimball and Caldwell, as well as volunteers, will continue the work in August.
Several fall crops are planted, or will soon be, so that when middle school students return to classes in the fall they will have a chance to continue using the garden project in their language arts, math, and other classes.
Caldwell and Kimball said the national award made them feel respected and appreciated for the work they, with the support of the school, have initiated.
They were particularly appreciative of state Rep. Terry Hayes of Buckfield who led a legislative sentiment and encouraged them all along the way.
The project was nominated for national recognition by Willie S. Grenier, executive director of the state’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources.
The students are proud of what they do in the garden.
“When kids have ownership, it’s priceless,” Caldwell said.