by Kevin McKeon
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s York County Kids Can Grow! 4-H program for 2022 held its final class Saturday, September 24, 2022, at their classroom and learning center at the David & Linda Pence Ecology Center, part of Mousam Way Land Trust’s McKeon Reserve in Springvale. This learning program, in its 23rd year, provides children with a positive first experience with gardening and growing their own food.
Frank Wertheim, now retired from his position as UMaine Extension Professor after over 35 years with the Cooperative Extension Office, has spearheaded and instructed this wonderful program for all 23 years, with the steadfast help of Sue Tkacik, Community Education Assistant, also retired after 16 years with UMaine Extension.
Each child is provided the materials to build their own 3’ x 5’ raised bed at their residence, and also given seeds and plants to add to their beds. Those lacking garden space are offered Kids Beds at the Sanford Community Garden, a part of the Pence Ecology Center. A Maine Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) is assigned to each child to help them along the way. Carefully supervised monthly classes include gardening skills and hands-on experience at their learning beds at the Sanford Community Garden adjacent to the classroom. Finally, they take that practical experience home to their personal gardens with their MGV Mentor’s guidance.
After forming four-person teams, kids design their own group sign, which remains posted next to their shared learning beds for the season. There have been many comical creations over the years; Sue particularly recalls the year we had a team of all boys, and their sign included worms driving tanks and parachuting out of planes!
“Each month the kids have learned something new about gardening: building, amending, planning, maintaining, insects, harvesting, and sharing how their gardens are doing”, says Sue. “It’s been a joy to see the growing (pun intended) interest the kids have as they are able to eat or share with family, something that they grew themselves. I have to add that in all the years of creating teams of kids, they have consistently worked together amazingly well.”
Their final day involved learning how to put the garden to bed and how to test seeds for viability with saved seeds in the spring. The kids opened some bean seeds that had begun to germinate and used hand lenses to see the beginnings of roots and leaves. Certificates of completion were handed out and the 2022 t-shirts were shared.
With Frank and Sue retiring, there will be new leadership with Mary Wicklund from the Extension Office. She will have the support of many MGVs who have volunteered in the program for years, some for every year! Martha Morrison, a key volunteer, enhances the children’s safety by releasing them only to known parents or guardians, along with getting the snacks ready for our break!