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Americorps aids Hodgdon school district with greenhouse, community garden

HODGDON, Maine — Thanks to the help of four young men and women in the AmeriCorps program, SAD 70 will hopefully have an abundance of fresh vegetables to be used in the school’s lunch program next fall.

Four members of the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps Team Maple 40 have spent the past several weeks in the school district helping with both a greenhouse and community garden, in addition to spending some time in the classroom with students.

SAD 70 Superintendent Scott Richardson said the collaborative effort came about after he attended a workshop last fall on volunteerism. He applied to have an Americorps team come to the district to help with the completion of a greenhouse, garden and composting project.

Jessica Williams of Seattle, Washington, is the team leader for the AmeriCorps group that has spent the past few weeks working in SAD 70 in Hodgdon. Here, Williams works to turn over a compost bin. (Joseph Cyr)

“It was a new project last year,” Richardson said. “The greenhouse was built by the Amish, paid for by a grant started by a community group, last fall. This spring is the first time we have planted anything in the greenhouse.”

A garden was created last year, but only grew seasonal items such as pumpkins and squash. The district hopes to expand those items to other vegetables that can be used in the school’s cafeteria and to have enough left over to be donated to needy families.

On Saturday, the group conducted a “community planting” day behind Mill Pond Elementary School, where residents were encouraged to assist with getting the garden ready for the growing season.

“We are focusing on growing things that will be harvested in the fall, so that way it can be done during the school year,” Richardson said.

One of the main projects the AmeriCorps team has worked on is installing an irrigation system to both the greenhouse and the garden.

Jessica Williams of Seattle, Washington, serves as team leader for the AmeriCorps group in Hodgdon. The group drove to Hodgdon from Iowa back in May

“We are a federally-funded national service organization and we do work in five categories — energy conservation, environmental stewardship, natural and other disasters, urban and rural development, and infrastructure improvement,” Williams said. “We are a team-based program for 18-24-year-olds, with a 10-month commitment.”

According to its website, “AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs, made up of three primary programs that each take a different approach to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Members commit their time to address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks, preparing for disasters, and more.”

“I love being out here in the country,” said Zack Marks of Northampton, Massachusetts. “Our last project was in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so we were in the city the entire time. Here, it is beautiful.”

As part of the assignment, the quartet has also spent some time in the classroom, working with students on environmental studies.

For Jodi Cruz, a native of Charlotte, Texas, the project marked her first time coming to Maine and also gave her a chance to step outside of her normal role.

“I am more on the logistical side of the (AmeriCorps) program, so I am usually in an office,” Cruz said. “Every once in a while I get called out to join the field. This is a really unique team.”

The fourth member of the group is Stephen Magnuson of Midlothian, Virginia. The group is in Hodgdon until June 24.

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