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Green thumbs encouraged; Naquag greenhouse plants love of learning.

Byline: Melissa McKeon

RUTLAND - To the late Alma Hume of Rutland, teaching kids to love growing things was more than just that bean sprouting in a little cup.

"She grew up with her father having a market garden, and they had a corn stand at the end of our driveway," her daughter, Sandy Hume, recalled. "She felt that gardening was a very important part of life, so she felt that kids should have an opportunity to connect with that."

As a member of the Grange, an agricultural organization that promoted farming, Mrs. Hume was part of the effort to give schoolchildren in Rutland, a town with an agricultural past, a chance to go a little more deeply into growing things.

And what better way to do that than to give the school a greenhouse?

The efforts of that group of farmers and gardeners bore fruit in 1984 with a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy Resources, and children at Naquag School soon had a place in which they could learn the pleasure of potting plants, setting them in the sun and learning the satisfaction that Mrs. Hume knew all her life.

Mrs. Hume and Grange members, along with parents, took on the task of teaching children all about growing things, using the little greenhouse in the courtyard of the school. Sandy Hume, too, did her part after her mother passed away in keeping the program going.

The greenhouse became something of a town treasure, with the recreation department also using it for after-school programs.

The volunteers soon turned the project over to teachers, Sandy Hume said, knowing that teachers knew best how to fit the greenhouse and whatever projects might use it into the curriculum.

But the years took their toll on the little greenhouse, and without district money to support this donation, it began to fall into disuse and disrepair.

"Obviously the district could not renovate it," said Naquag Principal Dixie Herbst, veteran of many budget seasons where money was scarce. "Even to tear it down would cost money."

Rutland farmer Kathy Clark of Ketonen-Clark Farm, vice chairman of the town's agricultural commission, recalls the state the greenhouse was in when the commission was made aware of the problem four years ago.

"It needed a new roof; it had skylights that were leaking," Ms. Clark recalls. "The windows from 1984 were so foggy that you couldn't see through them. There were two panes of glass, and water had gotten in between."

Agricultural commission members found a strong kinship with the Grange members of nearly 30 years ago, and their commitment to share their love of growing things.

"Even if (the kids) don't become farmers, at least they'll have that skill of planting and to see how much fun it is," Ms. Clark said.

So the Agricultural Commission's members set out to find a way to restore the greenhouse. They spoke with the local Board of Selectmen about their efforts, and got its support and kept going.

"We wrote letters to tell the (WRSD) superintendent and the state commissioner of agriculture and our legislators about what we were doing, hoping that they were going to help," Ms. Clark recalled. "They were all supportive, but nobody had money."

The group then contacted Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School, which does projects to give their students hands-on work experience. But the school had no room on its agenda for the project.

Ms. Clark says it then came down to plain old fundraising, and through years of networking, donations finally totaled enough - $8,000 - to put the project out to bid and get it started. Rutland builder David Lussier took on the restoration, and Stillman Landscaping of Sterling added a little pond and some plants outside the now-clear windows of the greenhouse, where a new ventilation system automatically lets in enough air to keep the temperature steady.

"It looks grand," Ms. Herbst said.

The little greenhouse is not only a feast for the eyes, but a rare resource for educators, Ms. Herbst said. In an increasingly demanding curriculum, it's nice for teachers to be able to take their students to study life sciences and living things in a special space, to work as a class at the long table in the greenhouse and do what any kid loves, get their hands dirty.

The four-year effort to restore this unique educational resource was celebrated this week at Naquag, where Ms. Herbst is delighted that teachers and students now have full use of the sunny space that faces the courtyard of the school.

For Sandy Hume, there's another satisfaction in celebrating this restoration.

"I'm sure my mother is looking down and jumping up and down, so happy that they've taken it upon themselves to rehab the greenhouse," she said.



CUTLINE: Seedlings thrive in the little greenhouse at Naquag Elementary School.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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