Free school and community gardening course offered

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RUMFORD — Area businesses, organizations and teachers can learn how to organize a school or community garden during a five-week course offered through the Oxford County Cooperative Extension Service.

The five, two-hour sessions are free and will begin at 4 p.m. Feb. 29 at Mountain Valley High School. They are open to people from the greater Oxford County area.

Extension educator Barbara Murphy said organizing groups to grow gardens can be a challenge.

“Goals must be clear,” she said.

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For example, for school gardens, the purpose is to support curriculum, help improve healthy eating, assist with weight loss, or a combination of these and other reasons.

For community gardens, there should be bylaws for smooth operation and a schedule for those who will work in them.

She said the first session on Wednesday will help organizers voice their goals and define what success would look like.

“There must be a buy-in or long-term commitment,” she said.

She said school and community gardens are often grown without a clear purpose, or without looking at the various ways goals can be met without necessarily planting a spring garden with a large number of vegetables. And school gardens work best when the school and administration play important roles, rather than just one classroom.

Fall gardens can be grown, she said, particularly when plants include beans and greens, which require relatively few days until they are ready to harvest. Schools may also plant specific varieties in the late spring, such as dry beans or potatoes, that need little attention during the summer months. Then, when school begins in late August, they can be harvested.

“Is it necessary to plant a garden over the summer?” she asked.

Sandra Witas, coordinator for this course and others, represents the Farm to School Program, which she said is in the assessment phase of the overall project.

She has surveyed areas with interest in growing a community or school garden, and has found that many without gardening experience have no idea where to start.

The sessions will help with site selection, assist with setting up volunteers, and provide information on pest control, among many other things.

“All these things can run a garden into the ground the first year,” she said.

Witas also organizes the Rumford community garden.

Those wishing to attend School Gardening 101 may register by calling the Extension office at 743-6329 or by emailing Lesley Quick at lesley.quick@maine.edu

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