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 the state of Maine with ReTreeUS’ Back to School Garden program. This program solves major issues confronting school gardens, especially summer maintenance, while generating abundant harvests for cafeterias and teaching students about essential garden-based lessons. Lessons include: decomposition, soil building, successional planting and season extension.

A step by step guide can be found on the ReTreeUS website at https://www.retree.us/back-to-school-garden-guide but here is a basic summary: September is an ideal time to plant certain crops in Maine, such as salad greens, kale, chard, parsley, cilantro and spinach, that can fill cafeteria salad bars and food pantries in some instances. The Back to School Garden approach aligns school gardens with the school calendar by making well-established, cold-hardy vegetable seedlings available to schools in August and September. Preparation for this gardening technique starts in the spring before the school year ends. ReTreeUS will teach students to “sheet-mulch” garden beds using paper and compost that will eliminate weeds and increase fertility over the summer. The students will 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 the students to plant hardy seedlings (that ReTreeUS will source from local farms and deliver to the schools) that will thrive for the months of September, October, November and December with the season extending row cover that we provide (these seedlings will survive through the winter in a greenhouse).

Collaborators on this effort include Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC) and Independent Retailers Shared Services Cooperative (IRSSC). MAITC to increase the educational opportunities for students and align lessons to learning standards. IRSSC will help raise awareness of the program and help create ongoing fundraising opportunities for the program. This grant will go a long way to create healthy food in school gardens while inspiring the next generation of gardeners.



Video created by JEFFREY GRIFFITHS, Creative Director, NEWS CENTER Maine