Mackenzie Rowe of Kennebunk works in one of the raised beds
used for demonstration at the Kids Can Grow teaching site in
Springvale. She is one of nearly 250 youngsters ages 7–12 who have
participated in the Kids Can Grow program since its start in 1999 by
University of Maine Cooperative Extension in York County.
Photo by Frank Wertheim
Links related to this story
Kids can grow
In York county in southern Maine, flower and vegetable seeds are
used to grow and nurture self-esteem in children. They are among the
supplies distributed to youngsters ages 7–12 in the Kids Can Grow
program that, since 1999, has provided the knowledge and mentoring
children need to establish their own raised bed gardens.
Kids Can Grow is now a national model that has been adopted in other
"I've been blown away with how popular it is with kids, parents and
teachers," says Frank Wertheim, the University of Maine Cooperative
Extension educator who started Kids Can Grow. "By getting their hands in
the earth when they're young, we hope to kindle an interest that could
turn into a life-long hobby. We also hope to instill excitement and
pride in growing their own food."
Up to 30 children each summer join the program, often hearing about it
from their friends and siblings. They gather monthly from April–August
to learn how to make and maintain 3-foot by 5-foot raised bed gardens at
the teaching site in Springvale. They use the "square-foot gardening"
technique developed by Mel Bartholomew to "grow more in less space."
With the help of Extension Master Gardener mentors and simple supplies,
the aspiring green thumbs start their own gardens in their backyards.
For children living in more urban areas, Wertheim and the other adult
volunteers help establish garden plots in their communities, close to
Each child pays $20 to get the loam, compost, lumber and seeds needed
for his or her raised bed garden. York County Master Gardener
Association subsidizes the program and local businesses donate some of
the supplies to keep the cost affordable.
Master Gardener mentors work with the young gardeners at their homes,
guiding their success and inspiring confidence. Some of the mentors
spend up to 40 hours cultivating a love of gardening.
As the growing season progresses, the Kids Can Grow monthly meetings
focus on gardening-related activities, including nutrition. The summer
culminates with displays at the county fair, and a harvest dinner.
Produce from the teaching garden is harvested by the children and
donated to area food pantries as part of Extension's Plant a Row for the