Connors Elementary School Garden Ed Tech Margaruette Seguin gives a thumbs up as she stands in the school’s garden in Lewiston with Back to School Garden seedlings and garden support kit. Contributed photo

United Charitable has been awarded a 2021 USDA Farm to School Turnkey Grant through its fiscally-sponsored program, ReTreeUS.

This grant will enable ReTreeUS to support 10 schools throughout Maine with ReTreeUS’ Back to School Garden program, according to a news release from ReTreeUS, a nonprofit organization.

This program solves major issues confronting school gardens, especially summer maintenance, while increasing productivity to generate abundant harvests for cafeterias and maximizing garden learning opportunities. Garden-based lessons include decomposition, soil building, successional planting and season extension.

ReTreeUS is on the road delivering more than 4,000 seedlings and garden support resources. ReTreeUS is also utilizing funding from Hannaford and other sources to be able to reach 15 schools. Schools benefiting from the program include: Atwood Primary in Oakland, Auburn Middle, Captain Albert Stevens in Belfast, Connors Elementary in Lewiston, Ellsworth Middle, Hollis Elementary, Indian Township, Lee Academy, Lewiston High, Manchester in Windham, Park Avenue Elementary in Auburn, Thomaston Grammar, Walker Elementary in Liberty, Wentworth in Scarborough and Williams Elementary in Oakland.

A step-by-step guide can be found at

The Back to School Garden approach aligns school gardens with the school calendar by making vegetable seedlings available to schools in August and September. Preparation for this gardening technique starts in the spring before the school year ends. ReTreeUS teaches students to “sheet-mulch” garden beds using paper and compost that will eliminate weeds and increase fertility over the summer. Students also seed popping corn, pumpkins and winter squash in these mulched beds that will grow through the summer, with minimal maintenance, and will be ready for harvest when they go back to school.

After this harvest, beds will be ready for students to plant hardy seedlings sourced by ReTreeUS from local farms and delivered to the schools. These seedlings will thrive during September, October, November and December, with the season extending row cover that the program provides. During winter, these seedlings can continue to grow in a greenhouse.

“We are very excited about this grant,” said Richard Hodges, ReTreeUS Program manager, according to a news release from ReTreeUS. “We believe that this program can revolutionize school gardens, making them more productive for cafeterias while providing more learning opportunities and inspiration for students.”

To view a video about this years program, visit

Thousands of cold-hardy lettuce, kale, spinach and herb seedings wait to be loaded into the ReTreeUS mobile to be distributed to schools throughout Maine. Contributed photo

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