Charlotte Nile, center, asks a question in November 2022 about the raised-bed garden she and her family are building at McMahon Elementary School in Lewiston. Students, school staff and families spent the day rebuilding vegetable beds in the school’s two garden spaces. Food grown by the students is used to teach cooking skills and nutrition education, Eliza Guion, second from left, of FoodCorps said. From left are Mallory Johnson, Guion, Nile, Connor Nile and Beckett Nile. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file

LEWISTON — Garden and nutrition programs are taking root in Lewiston elementary schools with the help of two nonprofit organizations.

Due to the work of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center and FordCorps, garden and nutrition education programs are operating at Connors Elementary School and McMahon Elementary School.

On Monday, Eliza Guion, a FoodCorps service member at McMahon, gave a presentation about the program to the School Committee members.

FoodCorps is a national nonprofit focused on increasing access to nutritious meals in schools. The organization has helped develop programming in Lewiston with the help of St. Mary’s nutrition center for more than a decade.

FoodCorps members help start and grow these programs at local schools. But after several years, school districts become responsible for staffing and managing the program.

This is the last year that a FoodCorps member will work at McMahon, however Guion said she is working with school staff to ensure the program continues. She told committee members that FoodCorps is aiming to start similar programs at either Farwell Elementary School or Geiger Elementary Schools.


According to Guion, studies on school garden programs have found greater science achievement and more consumption of fruits and vegetables among elementary school students.

Young students tend to focus on sensory activities, while older students focus more on math and science connections.

As one example, sixth grade students recently collected garden soil samples to be sent for analysis to the University of Maine. The results will help students determine what the soil needs to best support growing plants.

“People get confused sometimes and think we’re just teaching kids how to garden,” Guion said. “A school garden is really a container for experiential learning and for hands-on learning and I think you can take any topic, any concept and bring it outside and make it real for students. It’s a tool to reinforce what they’re learning in (the classroom).”

As part of the program, Guion also works with food service staff to provide samples of fresh foods for students to try during lunch.

“Anecdotally, I find that students are much more willing to try something new if they had their hands involved somehow in the process of preparing that,” she said.


The concept may sound basic, but the need is there. For some students, the taste-testing opportunity provided was their first taste of apples, she said.

“What FoodCorps is doing could impact kids’ future personal and professional lives,” McMahon science teacher Diana Kruszewski said. “By educating these students on nutrition and how plants work, we could be educating a future scientist who will make an environmental impact or a botanist who will be experimenting on Mars or even the next Gordon Ramsay,” a famous British chef.

Jaye Rich, a teacher of multilingual students at McMahon, said students love being in the garden. The program also provides a great opportunity for students to practice their English skills, she said.

McMahon parent Melissa Hoskins said the garden is essential for students who think and learn differently.

“The garden really provides that space to explore and look at the world in a different way outside of the classroom,” she said. “I just see how vital that is to build self-esteem and confidence.”

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