Roberts Farm offers shares in agriculture program

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NORWAY — With several feet of snow on the ground and more winter storms on the way, fresh summer vegetables may be the last thing on most people’s minds. 

But staff at SAD 17’s outdoor classroom at Roberts Farm are already planning for the summer’s bounty, and ramping up its efforts to share with the community the fresh fruits and vegetables grown at the garden.

For the second year in a row, the outdoor classroom is offering people in the Oxford Hills community and beyond shares in its Community Supported Agriculture program.

From June to September, CSA shareholders get a weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables, including onions, garlic, kale, salad greens and tomatoes, grown by SAD 17 students in the four greenhouses and more than an acre of gardens at the outdoor classroom. This summer, eggs from chickens at the site are being added to the weekly share.

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The property is owned by the Western Foothills Land Trust, and also includes miles of trails for hiking, walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Full shares, more than enough to feed a family of four, cost $400 for the season, while half shares cost $200. 

Revenue from the CSA goes directly into a youth employment program for students from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris, said Dan Rennie, the classroom’s site coordinator.

Last year, the Community Supported Agriculture program helped fund about eight slots for the three-month program.

Students split their time between working and learning new skills in the gardens and greenhouses and helping out with summer programming for younger students at the outdoor classroom, all while earning an hourly wage.

“It’s not just gardening, it’s teen leadership,” Rennie said. “They’re able to build more confidence about themselves and learn leadership skills, not to mention have something to put on their resume.”

Last year, eight shareholders signed up for the Community Supported Agriculture program, but Rennie hopes more will join this year. Grant funding has been secured for at least two positions for high school students and more funding may be forthcoming, Rennie said. 

Still, if more people join the program, he’s hopeful it will bring the number of student workers back to eight. 

This is the third year of summer programming at Roberts Farm and the site continues to grow. Last year, a flock of laying hens was introduced, as well as an aquaponic program, housed in the portable classroom on the property.

Programming at Roberts Farm is funded mainly through grants and other non-tax revenues. Lettuce and other greens grown at the garden also are sold to the school district’s food service department and thousands of pounds of produce are donated every year to the Maine Harvest for Hunger, which provides the food to local people in need. 

Without help from a team of high school workers, Rennie said the program would be only a spectre of its current strength.

“The workers totally made it possible,” Rennie said. “It was very obvious to me that yes, I had to show them how to do it, but once they were gone, I was up the creek.”

Those interested in purchasing a CSA share can contact Rennie at 256-7747. Shares should be purchased by late April. 

pmcguire@sunjournal.com

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