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Student interns keep garden project growing

Oct 06, 2020
Student interns Levi Farrell, Jazmyn Dodge and Madison Resh and Troy Howard Middle School garden coordinator David Wessels, from left, maintain the middle school garden during the summer.

Belfast — The Belfast Garden Club’s Scholarship Committee looked for an opportunity last summer to support a paid internship for a local teenager with an interest in environmental science. They found it in Belfast at the Troy Howard Middle School’s Garden Project.

What began as a pumpkin patch in the mid-’90s is now a living garden classroom that comprises not only extensive gardens and an orchard, but also a 35-by-48-foot, four-season greenhouse and a small outbuilding with a kitchen and cob pizza oven. Orchestrated and managed by David Wessels, the Garden Project provides experiential learning for middle school students that is tied into the regular school curriculum. Students participate in all aspects of the program, from growing, planting, tending and harvesting the plants and learning about soil building and pest control to marketing and selling their produce.

The Garden Project also sells 1,000-plus pounds of produce each year to the school for use in cafeteria meals, which helps to fund the project. Because the school closed last spring due to COVID-19, it didn’t need the food and the produce is being offered as CSA shares.

Another consequence of the pandemic was there were no students to tend the project’s gardens and help run the marketing and distribution of the produce. Belfast Garden Club contacted Wessels about the possibility of a paid summer internship, and Wessels worked with teachers and guidance counselors to identify internship candidates.

According to a press release from the Garden Club, the program turned out to be a "great success." Wessels reports that after hearing about the initial internship idea, several teachers and community members pitched in to fund two additional interns. He said they worked hard all summer, weeding, mulching, planting — and picking potato beetles — all of which was an initial physical adjustment for them after months of relative inactivity at home.

“Popsicles were important to our success!” Wessels told the Garden Club. By chance, all three of the interns are artists, so Wessels bought them sketch books and they took daily sketching breaks. The interns also learned about the business side of the project, including how to open bank accounts and fill out tax paperwork. As a bonus, they got to bring home fresh produce, allowing them to try some new foods.

Also notable, according to Wessels, was a visit in August from plant breeder and agroecologist John Navazio. “We strolled through the garden talking about plant breeding, genetics, and the coevolution of humans and plants,” Wessels said. “I think it was valuable for the interns to see how botanical/horticultural knowledge can lead to good, interesting careers right here in Waldo County, and especially how qualities like curiosity, perseverance, and close observation are just as important as technical knowledge.”

As for Wessels, he said he “really valued and learned from their conversations about the students’ lives, their challenges.”

The Belfast Garden Club said its members are "extremely grateful" to Wessels "for giving these interns a good introduction to environmental stewardship," and the club plans to invest in the Troy Middle School Garden Project again next year.

The Belfast Garden Club has promoted public gardens and stimulated the knowledge and love of gardening for more than 90 years. Proceeds from fundraising support local public gardens and several scholarship funds. Formore information, visit

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Jennifer Hill | Oct 07, 2020 04:00

David Wessels is a community treasure!

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