“Learning to Grow: In the Garden with Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, Maine” is an exhibition of photographs from 2007 through 2009 by freelance photographer Jennifer Smith-Mayo, documenting THMS students as they learn to sow and grow and so much more. It is on display this month in the Kramer Gallery of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St.

In the summer of 2007, Smith-Mayo received a photo assignment from Down East Magazine to cover a story about the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project in Belfast (the article ran in the March 2009 issue of Down East Magazine). What began as a regular assignment quickly developed into a longer, more involved project.

While spending time with the students and teachers in the THMS Garden, Smith-Mayo quickly realized how important this garden is for the students, the school and the community. The garden helps students build gardening skills, teaches them how to run a business, eat healthy food (tons – literally, tons- of freshly harvested veggies are used by the school’s kitchen annually) and get outdoors and flex their muscles. It also serves as an outdoor classroom.

One autumn day while photographing, Smith-Mayo noticed a group of students and their math teacher in the pumpkin patch. When she asked a student what they were doing, he said his team was calculating a pumpkin’s weight by taking measurements of the pumpkin and working with a chart. Smith-Mayo realized that the garden offered students an experiential way to learn, hands-on, in an outdoor classroom.

“Every kid in America should have this opportunity,” she said. “I believe that by working in the garden students gain life skills that will help them become better citizens.”

THMS students run indoor and outdoor farmstands at school, they sell their vegetables to the Belfast Co-Op and, throughout the year, they deliver boxes and boxes of veggies to the soup kitchen in Belfast, she said, adding “And more often than not, they do all these things with smiles on their faces.”

For more information, contact Smith-Mayo at jsm@jennifersmithmayo.com.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.