Indian Township School sits along the shores of Long Lake in Northern Maine in the small, tight-knit community of the Passamaquoddy Indian Township Reservation. The school enrollment fluctuates depending on the hunting and fishing seasons, between 125 and 145 students in Pre-K to 8th grade. Their farm to school program started three years ago when the School Librarian, Donna Meader-York, approached the Special Education Teacher in Junior High, Brian Giles, to revive the defunct greenhouse on the school grounds and expand the small garden. Teaming up together, Donna and Brian flexed their resourcefulness muscle and reached out to several organizations, including the National Farm to School Network (NFSN).
Brian attended the very next NFSN Conference where he was especially inspired by a presentation from Intertribal Agriculture Council’s Youth Programs Coordinator, Kelsey Ducheneaux. Brian saw clearly the connection between the issues faced in Native American communities, including Indian Township, and the opportunity to address those issues by empowering the youth to grow and cook their traditional foods. “I realized we’re all fighting the same fight and I felt even more invigorated to help overcome those difficulties,” said Brian, and his commitment soon paid off. Indian Township School received the Seed Change in Native Communities mini-grant and got to work bringing the greenhouse back into working order and building raised beds to increase the garden. They also started Passamaquoddy O.G.’s (Original Gardeners) club to bring a cool factor to the youth participating.
Today the Indian Township School features a functional greenhouse, raised-bed garden, a wild rice pond, and a fruit and nut orchard planted by the students through partnership with ReTreeUS. The school has partnered with the food pantry, offering space in the greenhouse to start seedlings that grow to provide food for dozens of families throughout the harvest season. Students in the afterschool program help to plant the seedlings in the spring and return in the fall to gather and prepare the harvest in cooking classes. They also embark on foraging field trips for chokecherries and return to the school to preserve them into traditional dried leather. In their time spent together, the staff help youth focus on the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health.
When the school opens the doors for community feasts, produce from the garden is served alongside harvested berries, moose and venison for all to enjoy. Families file past the signage in the cafeteria featuring Passamaquoddy and English to share a traditional meal together. These community feasts are just one aspect of their success though – Brian and Donna also created a more secure and culturally-relevant food system, set an example of partnership to achieve their goals, and most importantly, empowered the next generation.
Learn more about Indian Township School here: http://www.indiantownshipschool.org/