Wednesday November 28, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Upon all accounts the gardening programs at Mount Anthony Union Middle School the past three years have been a huge success, but now it may take a larger investment from the district to keep them going.

In recent years middle school teacher Helen Fields and volunteer Stephen Greene have dedicated countless hours overseeing the school’s agriculture initiatives and tending to the garden behind the school. They have led after school programs, summer programs, helped implement the use of the garden into the curriculum, and helped bring produce from the garden into the school cafeteria. For the large part, their effort has been on a volunteer basis, but now the time has come where they -- and the MAU Agriculture Committee -- believe a paid, part-time position needs to be included in the budget to keep the initiatives going.

"For the last three years Helen and I have been pretty much developing the garden, planting the garden, weeding the garden, entertaining the kids, teaching the children about gardening, cooking, nutrition, and doing a lot of this through pure love," Greene told the school board Monday.

The garden programs have been aided by grant funds in recent years, although all of those have expired. The district has also given the agriculture program $5,000 in each of the past two budgets.


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As the school board begins to budget for next school year, the Agriculture Committee is asking for three to six times that.

In a presentation to the MAU school board Monday, Fields said it will require $14,315 from the board to maintain the gardens at their current level of operation, or as much as $27,365 to develop the "full potential of the garden’s educational benefits."

Maintaining the status quo, according to a memo Fields distributed to the board, would mean continued use of the "New Roots Garden" that has been maintained the past three years, and the newly cultivated "team gardens" created in the spring. The New Roots Garden is used in afterschool and summer programs and by teachers integrating agriculture into their lessons. Remaining crops are harvested and distributed in the fall and the gardens are cleaned and planted with a cover crop at the end of the season.

Maintaining what is in place will come at an annual cost of $11,250 in labor and another $3,065 in equipment and materials.

The second option would include hiring a part-time garden manager/educator to work with school faculty on the development of project-based lesson plans and assume responsibility for the garden activities already in place. "The result of this approach would be that over time the design and management of the gardens would become fully integrated with the curricular needs of the school," the memo states. That position would also be responsible for seeking and applying for grants to help fund the program.

Fields said the greatest responsibility of the position would be to help incorporate the garden into curriculum for all subjects. The role will be even more important when the state turns to the Common Core State Standards in 2013 that will require agriculture to be incorporated in the curriculum.

The estimated salary for that position is $25,000, according to the memo, and would include working one or two days a week during the academic year and more frequently over the summer months.

The second option also includes funds to allow teachers to receive additional professional development to learn new ways to incorporate the garden in their teaching.

"The statistics are out there that these programs get students to stay in school more, they encourage students to eat healthier, and they increase learning across the curriculum when students are involved in a garden program," Fields said.

Board member Nathan Wallace-Senft, who is also on the Agriculture Committee, advocated for increasing the school’s focus on agriculture given the state of the world.

"Because of the peak oil problem ... in the not-to-distant future (people) will have to become much more self sufficient," he said. "I think it’s essential that we get ahead of the game here and get programs going that will enable students to think really creatively and with some self-confidence about their own ability to raise foods."

Timothy Holbrook, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the committee will consider the funding request at its next meeting when it begins to look at the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi