CORNVILLE — The seeds of learning are being planted at the Cornville Charter School along with a bunch of other kinds of seeds — carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, basil, sage, radish, beets, ornamental pumpkins and tri-color corn to grind to make cornbread and tortillas.

The vegetables will grow in eight raised beds in cold frames for four-season gardens and food for four planned harvest dinners at the school as part of the agricultural education curriculum.

School Principal Travis Works said the school took delivery Thursday night at a dinner in Saco of $3,000 in grant money from Maine Agriculture in the Classroom to help fund the project. Timber for the wooden cold frames was donated by Toby Hight at the Skowhegan State Fair from the sheep barns that have been replaced on the fairgrounds, he said.

Agriculture education teacher Angela Dunton wrote the grant for the project. The program has been in place at the charter school since it opened three years ago. The school has 15 staff members, with eight classroom teachers and 125 children in kindergarten through grade eight. The first day of school is Aug. 31.

Each 4-by-8-foot beds will have a polycarbonate A-frame top for use through the cold months, Works said. The school will have eight garden beds, one for each homeroom class.

“The A-frames turn our raised beds into a greenhouse,” Works said. “What it’s going to allow is year-round growing.”

The cold frames will extend the growing season for harvest into the late months of winter and over the winter with plants such as garlic for early spring growing. Each cold frame is designed to be user friendly for even the youngest students, Works said, and will be equipped with automatic window openers in order to prevent overheating on weekends and vacations.

“These gardens will be maintained by the classrooms and will incorporate a variety of cross-curricular learning activities,” Works said. “This program will also allow students to directly impact the school and community through service learning and hands-on activities. Students will harvest the gardens and host harvest dinners throughout the school year.”

Angela Dunton, the school’s agriculture education teacher, said the cold-frame project involves students at every grade level. She said the interior of the little greenhouses will be temperature controlled even through the winter months.

“We are going with the thickest polycarbonate we can to keep them as warm as possible,” Dunton said. “They’re not temperature controlled — we are not heating them — we’re going to put automatic openers on the window that will rise, and as they warm up by the time they hit 60 they will actually start to open and cool down to let the air in. It’s solar.”

Dunton said the students planned and laid out the gardens using math and design techniques. There will be carrots to be harvested this coming winter, kale and leeks will grow in the greenhouses, too, she said.

Children attending summer school programs already have planted two of the raised beds and a garden to attract butterflies.

Cornville Regional Charter School was the first elementary charter school in Maine to open it’s doors and the founders envisioned a school where hands-on projects, individualized instruction and service learning were woven through the fabric of the school, according to Works.

“Agriculture is an important part of the local community and can be easily incorporated into learning opportunities,” he said. “The agricultural education program serves as a way to provide relevant and meaningful opportunities when delivering this type of instruction. Each year, the amount of staff resources, time and funding for agricultural education has increased and continues to grow.”

Works said the program has three key components: garden design, planning and construction; planting and garden care; and harvesting and food preparation.

“The kids are going to do four harvest meals next year and as much of the food we can grow here, we will,” Dunton said.

They may even try raising a few turkeys for a harvest dinner in time for Thanksgiving.

Up next at the Cornville Charter School: a geodesic dome for a larger greenhouse to grow vegetables.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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