GrowME winds up as spring starts

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GUILFORD — Third-graders around Piscataquis County will soon be peering into their cups watching for a sign of green while their parents watch the thermometer and the long-range forecasts. Those third-graders are part of a group of an estimated 700 elementary students who will complete an assortment of agricultural projects as part of the GrowMe collaboration between three local organizations, the Valley Grange, University of Maine Piscataquis County Extension and Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Additional activities include kindergarteners making a graph showing the favorite farm animal of the class and first-graders completing an “apples to apples” comparison that included taste testing. Second-graders churn and sample their own “homemade” butter.

Walter Boomsma, program director for Valley Grange in Guilford and coordinator of GrowME, noted that by the end of this year’s program in early April, volunteers will likely visit nearly 40 classrooms in the area. This is the sixth year of the program.

Boomsma thinks the continued success is driven by the goal the collaborators agreed on at the outset, “We established that our mission was to build a truly local program of agriculturally themed activities for kids led by local volunteers with the goal of increasing agricultural literacy and making it fun! The kids enjoy themselves and sometimes do not even realize how much they are learning.

“We also stay sensitive to the needs of the teachers and classrooms. Because we are consistent, teachers can use these activities as part of their formal curriculum. We’ve had teachers use the activities as writing prompts and butter-making can include some math.”

Volunteers come from each of the three organizations, but also from the community as well as some master gardeners and farmers in the area. GrowME volunteers also visit Brownville, Milo and Greenville elementary schools as well as Piscataquis Community Elementary School in Guilford and SeDoMoCha Elementary School in Dover-Foxcroft. Supplies are donated by organizations and volunteers.

“The kids actually expect us,” Boomsma points out and notes that volunteers get hooked once they experience the enthusiasm and happiness of the students. “In many cases, they know what to expect and will say things like, ‘Last year you brought apples. This year we’re going to make butter, right?’”

An informational blog is located at New volunteers are always welcome.

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