Students prepare to plant a cherry tree as part of GSA’s edible landscape project. PHOTO COURTESY OF GEORGE STEVENS ACADEMY

GSA’s edible landscape program continues to grow

By Mark Messer

Special to The Ellsworth American

BLUE HILL George Stevens Academy’s edible landscape program is thriving.

An area behind the school’s Hinckley House dormitory on Tenney Hill lacks biodiversity as a result of how the property was historically used, said GSA science teacher Steve Whitney.

“It’s been forested several times. It’s pretty quiet when you walk through. You’re not seeing the variety of animals that would normally be in our forest.”

So, in winter 2022, his Exploring Earth Systems classes started working with local partners on a project to provide food and shelter for native animals, including pollinators like butterflies and bees, which are critical to the food system.

There was snow on the ground when Whitney and his students first visited the site with Kathy Pollard and Ann Pollard-Ranco of Know Your Land Consulting and Blue Hill Heritage Trust Development Director Chrissy Allen.

“To bring Kathy and Ann’s deep knowledge and understanding of the landscape into local science classrooms is such a gift,” Allen said.

The mother-daughter team, which specializes in restorative ecology, said that adopting the right attitude about the land is important to the project’s success.

Students should consider not just the parts, but the whole. The land, plants and all the creatures that share the space are referred to collectively by the Penobscot people with a phrase that translates to “all my relations,” said Pollard-Ranco, a Penobscot tribal citizen.

Soon after that initial visit, students met with the consultants to map the area, research native plants and, with Allen’s help, prepare a project proposal to submit to Blue Hill Heritage Trust with a grant request.

After generous donors to the trust agreed to support the project, Whitney’s classes put their plan into action. With guidance from Pollard and Pollard-Ranco, students weeded an existing garden bed, installed fencing, propagated grape vines and planted raspberry canes, pear trees, cherry trees and other plants to attract pollinators and other wildlife, all by the end of the semester.

“My students were deeply engaged in doing meaningful work for their community,” Whitney said. “Kids hear about all these terrible environmental problems, like habitat degradation and climate change, and they feel helpless, but here’s a project where they can actually be involved, plan and take action.”

“This multigenerational collaboration,” said Pollard-Ranco, “will be built upon by future classes and will continue to grow in beautiful directions.”

With the start of school this fall, Whitney’s new classes took over responsibility for the project. “I am excited,” he said, “to see the continued growth and build upon the hard work of last year’s group. We also want people from the community to see it and enjoy it and think about their role in the natural landscape.”

The site is located behind the Hinckley House dormitory and alongside the Murphy Trail, an accessible trail built by Blue Hill Heritage Trust in 2020.

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