Troy Howard Middle School
               Garden Project
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Name:            Troy Howard Middle School

                       Garden Project

Address:        Jon Thurston

                       Troy Howard Middle School

                       25 Lincolnville Avenue

                       Belfast, Maine  04915

Phone:            207-338-3320




Products and Services:

-student-run garden stand

-vegetables, herbs, flowers

-vegetable seedlings

-heirloom seed saving

-greenhouse and hoop houses

-composting program

-donations to food pantries & soup kitchens

-supplier of food to cafeteria

-wholesale sales to Belfast Food Co-op

What Makes Troy Howard Middle School Unique?

What amazing opportunities that the middle school students at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast have to experience gardening and various farming operations!  Their innovative school garden project has received a great deal of recognition.  Retired teachers Don White and Steve Tanguay, and present teacher, Jon Thurston, have all played instrumental roles in establishing a dynamic horticultural program at the school. Some of the elements of the Troy Howard Middle School project are so creative that it is no wonder that people from throughout the country are interested in incorporating similar projects at their schools.

Seventh and eighth grade students at Troy Howard Middle School are divided into three academies -

Ecology, Innovation, and International.  In 2006, Jon Thurston stepped into the role of Agricultural Coordinator for RSU 20.  He and Neil Lash had started the Heirloom Seed Saving Project at Medomak Valley High School, which is also profiled in the Unique Maine Farms’ project. The

present-day expansion and success of the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project is credited

with the efforts of the students and the support of Jon Thurston and his colleagues and the community.

One of the most distinctive physical features of the program that is immediately apparent when you visit the school is the solar electric panel on the side of the greenhouse.  There is a large webcam set-up that streams live photos of their garden and photos inside of their large greenhouse every twenty seconds. The equipment for this was arranged through a very generous donation from Dave Perlman.  Jon Thurston explained that the webcams have proven very beneficial in keeping detailed records and accessing information.  People from all over the world check in to see how the gardens and greenhouse are getting along.

Students are totally involved in the farming operations at Troy Howard Middle School.  They help with the planting, weeding, saving of seeds, composting, watering, and harvesting. Real-life business skills are taught.  Students are expected to help out with the weighing, picking, packing, quality control, and financial management aspects of the operation.  They are responsible for managing the stand, collecting the money, advertising, leading tours and conducting presentations, and coordinating the food distribution.  Students take vegetables and herbs to the Common Ground Fair and come home with an incredible number of ribbons from the Exhibition Hall.

Students in the Ecology Academy are divided into different divisions such as the Composting Division, Greenhouse Division, and Seed Division. Students in the Compost Division deliver compost to the gardeners; manage the food scraps from lunch; and help with the compost bins and worm farms.  One of the worm bins has been placed underground in one of the hoop houses.  The manure from the resident rabbits and chickens is collected for compost and the city of Belfast donated 120 yards of leaves this past fall.  Students in the Seed Division are responsible for ordering, saving, and organizaing all of the seeds used by the gardeners.  They have also been making beautiful wooden signs for identification of trees and plants on the sixty-acre school property. Jobs tackled by the students in the Greenhouse Division include helping in the greenhouse, two hoop houses, and the gardens, and also assisting with the farm stand. 

Over one hundred varieties of vegetables and herbs are grown at the school.  Some of the artichokes that they are successfully growing are entering their third year!  Students recently helped with the planting of the potato garden.  The Jeremy Alex Fund donated money towards the project. The Garden Project will be working with Coastal Farms and Food in Belfast,

the new processing plant, on the production of Troy Howard French fries from the potatoes.

If you check out the school’s website you will see that students have contributed their writing, art, video, and photography work about the school garden. There is an educational video on in which the Troy Howard Middle School students filmed and narrated quite a comprehensive tour of their school’s Garden Project. Their Life & Learning: The School Garden Blog keeps everyone up-to-date about all the many exciting developments in the garden.

If someone asked Unique Maine Farms to describe the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project in one word, it would be “innovative.”  Every year it seems that they come up with some extremely creative undertakings.  There have been watershed projects and the planting of an orchard at the school. This past fall the students helped in the construction of raised bed gardens in the front of their school in the shape of the letters -T, H, M, and S that corresponded with the initials of their school - Troy Howard Middle School.  Each one of the academies at the school will be responsible for planting and maintaining one of these letter gardens. 

The markets for the vegetables and heirloom seeds that the students sell are quite varied.  Items are grown for the Belfast Co-op, the farm stand at the school, area restaurants, and the School District lunch programs.  Produce is donated regularly to local food pantries and soup kitchens.  The program is amazingly able to be financially self-sufficient with the exception of personnel costs.

The sense of community at Troy Howard Middle School is very powerful and immediately apparent. A great relationship has been formed with the Belfast Co-op, as they sell the seeds that the students save and the vegetables and herbs that they grow.  For the eighth year students from Troy Howard Middle School have participated in a community art event where their creative projects are displayed at the Belfast Co-op.  This past March the theme of the show was “I Say Tomato, You Say Tomato.”  Various mediums including clay, paper mache, pencil, paint, ink, and a full-size farmer were incorporated into the show.

There have been several art projects that have focused on the garden.  The building and weaving of the Earth Loom was particularly memorable.  Students made colorful ceramic garden lizards that

they sold to benefit the garden program.  The distinctive seed packets, with the images that were designed by students, have proven to be a great eye-catching marketing tool to promote their program.

The art classes at Troy Howard Middle School

have enjoyed visiting the solar kitchen at the school garden.  It is a bright, warm and peaceful spot that is equipped with solar collectors, tables and chairs, and a refrigerator and sink.  The homemade solar collector made from recycled soda cans that were painted black and the installation of a radiant heat system in the cement floor help to contribute towards heating the building. Members of the community helped towards funding expenses for its construction.  The Rotary provided money and the donation of the lumber from Robbinston Lumber was especially appreciated.  The building has been a welcoming spot for various classes and events.  Three different cooking classes for teachers were held in the solar kitchen at the Maine School Garden Day this past May 4, 2013.

Jon Thurston and some of his students provided a warm welcome to the visiting teachers at the Maine School Garden Day.  They gave tours of the greenhouse, solar kitchen, composting operation, worm farms, seed collection, pond, nature trail, and the 22000 square ft. garden.  The full investment in the project by the students is clearly obvious as four of the students showed up to help out on a Saturday.  Providing tours for visitors and young students in the district is a common occurrence at the school.

A farm camp is offered to interested students during the summer.  A stipend is provided, and for many students this is their first experience with a summer employment situation.  Last summer, Lynn Karlin, a nationally-known garden photographer, conducted a photo class in the school garden.  There have been bean-hole dinners, the making and selling of spaghetti sauce and salsa, pesto, and potato/squash soup.  Nutrition is learned in a fun and firsthand fashion - by actually consuming the food that is grown!

A great deal of effort has been dedicated to incorporate Maine’s learning standards in the Garden Project from various disciplines (math, science, art, economics, language arts, social studies) in the curriculum  at the Troy Howard Middle School.  Measurements for various garden tasks take place in math class.  Spread sheets from previous years are evaluated.  Books that deal with gardening are read for literacy.  Soil sample studies are performed and students learn about propagation, germination, aquaculture, weather, and integrated pest management. In art class, many gardening-related projects are introduced.  In social studies, students research the agricultural history of their hometowns. Through the management of the farm stand and various accounts students learn about finances in a firsthand manner.

A whole curriculum has been created around “The Pizza Garden” project that takes place at Troy Howard Middle School.  It is a two-year project which integrates all disciplines of study. Some of the lessons include such topics as tracking the global journey of pizza ingredients; designing a pizza plot; documenting information in journals throughout the year; learning about healthy soils and composting; growing and harvesting the vegetables; and cooking your own pizza.

The Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project

continues to evolve and flourish.  The students are totally immersed in all aspects of the garden operation.  It is no wonder that the program has been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture and the state of Maine Board of Education.  They have been a well-deserved recipient of several grants.  The collaborations that they have formed with various agencies, farms, businesses, and other schools is impressive.  Hats off to all the students, teachers, and community members that have been key players in growing such a meaningful and successful garden project.

Jon Thurston is the Agricultural

Coordinator for RSU 20

solar kitchen