By Dustin Luca
---- — The sustainable garden at Andover High School is flourishing anew after volunteers, vacationing students and a town garden club stepped in to prevent it from growing fallow
Its rebirth was celebrated and put on public display last week at an open house that honored those responsible for cultivating it back to life.
Parent volunteer Ann Knowles credits the commitment of student interns working over the summer and the generosity of the Andover Garden Club, which donated much-needed funds, with keeping the garden growing.
Last school year, the garden faced an uncertain future with the elimination of the high school’s environmental science class. Historically, students in that class got their hands dirty in the soil every spring, growing produce to sell at the Andover Historical Society’s Farmers Market and for use in the school’s cafeteria, Knowles said.
Not only was the class that tended the garden gone, but the teachers associated with it no longer found they could allot time for its cultivation under the restructured six-class teaching schedule that went into effect last year.
“We had a meeting in January, and sort of asked how we’re going to run this in the absence of a curriculum tie-in,” Knowles said. “The teachers didn’t have the time, or resources, to continue to care for or operate the garden.”
One of those teachers was Melanie Cutler, a high school AP biology teacher who had worked hand-in-hand with the garden and its caretakers since its creation.
“I was worried, because we didn’t have classes working on it, that not much would happen,” Cutler said.
As spring arrived, Knowles and fellow parent volunteer Michelle Maldari, whose children have since graduated, took charge and helped to form the high school gardening club.
“We had the meeting, and we were trying to determine, `How could we run this?’” Knowles said. “Michelle and I said we would continue to keep the garden growing as a school club.”
Even that proved to be a challenge, however.
“Not only are there a million clubs, but when you start a club in the middle of the year as opposed to the beginning when you have club sign-ups, that made it that much more difficult to get participation,” Knowles said.
Then, a benefactor came into the picture, inquiring about what type of resources were needed to see the garden thrive.
“The Andover Garden Club said, ‘Maybe we could help,’” Knowles said.
Andover Garden Club member Tina Girdwood, who also serves on its Environmental Awareness Committee, said she saw an immediate need at the garden.
“With any garden, you need equipment — especially when you have a lot of kids over time using the equipment, you need to replace it from time to time,” she said. “There were certain expenses they had and the Garden Club was anxious to help out with the project.”
The club donated $1,000 to get the garden back on track last spring.
As spring turned to summer and school gave way to vacation, students in the newly formed gardening club stuck around and dug in with the volunteers and newly acquired tools.
Buoyed by the donated funds, the student gardeners donated the food they grew this summer to area food pantries, Cutler said.
The start of the new school year this week will mark the return of the curriculum tie-in for the sustainable garden, she said. The environmental science class will be offered for ninth- and 10th-graders once again.
“They’ve got enough students to run one or two sections, so we’re excited to have that back in the curriculum,” Cutler said. “And the garden will be built back into the curriculum again so it will be tied into what students are learning in class.”
The garden is now turning a corner to “when it is most powerful,” Cutler said, “when students are learning about sustainable agriculture in the classroom and able to do the work in the classroom.”