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  • Betsy Larkin

Winter Wonders: A Recap of the Season

Can you sense that spring is here - even without a calendar? Pussy willows and other buds are showing up; purple and yellow crocuses sprinkle front yards with pops of color, and the birds are making a racket! The growing season is now upon us.

Engaging Winter Season

But did you know that we stayed open all winter long? Young children from the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC), Dandelion Montessori, Community Preschool and other groups visited regularly throughout the colder months, playing in and exploring the space, and experiencing what happens to the local flora and fauna while the garden is in its winter dormancy.

Preschoolers from Pooh and Friends Childcare visit the Growing Center in March.

In the past month, we had a soil delivery, ordered our spring seeds, started our indoor seedlings (thanks to volunteers with extra space at home!) and ran some workshops, including one at CultureHouse’s Community Pop-up Space in Union Square and one for the IMPACT group. Plus, we tabled at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market (where we’ll be again March 30), the Gardeners’ Gathering in Boston and the Summer Camp & Activity Fair, where we engaged Dr. Rubén Carmona, SPS Superintendent, in trying a maple drill! Our Programming Committee is fleshing out the year’s calendar, featuring DOZENS of FREE public and educational events

L to R: A volunteer greets visitors, and folks stop by to peruse seeds at the Winter Farmers' Market; SPS Super-intendent Dr. Rubén Carmona tries out our maple tapping drill, and Growing Center Operations Manager Bethany Burke talks to visitors to our table at the Summer Activities Fair.

Stories, Reflections & Artifacts: Children in the Garden

The Growing Center went state-wide in March, as our very own Nature-based Educator Paula Jordan, who oversees our Children in Nature Initiative, joined forces with educator and author Ron Grady, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to present on children’s experiences at the Growing Center at the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society’s annual conference in Worcester. Read more about their presentation!

Maple Magic

Earlier this month, more than 700 visitors, including 80+ area preschoolers and youth, didn’t have to leave Somerville to participate in another rite of spring: the 25th Annual Maple Boil Down! The Educational Boil Down, held on Friday, March 1, saw more than 100 students and teachers from early childhood, youth and teen partner groups visit the Growing Center. We had help from lots of energetic volunteers and local educators who worked behind the scenes on prep, as well. Activities at the Educational Boil Down included art, pretend fire making and tool use, with a focus on multilingual learners. Check out educator Lydia Mackie’s recent guest post about it on our Blog, The Five Senses: Children’s Experience of the Maple Boil.

In addition, an English language learners class from the Somerville Public Schools visited in advance to help set up the space for the big event, and Paula Jordan presented a nature-based maple education class off-site to four separate classes at the local Head Start program on Allen Street. And we held a maple education session for a local Girl Scout troop at Connexion United Methodist Church, which kindly gave us access to their kitchen space for the finishing stage of the boiling process. The Girl Scouts tasted some Somerville syrup on pancakes prepared by their leader, after learning about the process of making it and completing some awesome maple crafts!

L to R: Nature Educator and the Growing Center's Children in Nature Initiative Coordinator Paula Jordan visits some CAAS Head Start classrooms in Somerville for some offsite maple syrup lessons in advance of the Maple Boil; preschoolers engage in open-ended play using "mini" maple tapping/collecting parts; local Girl Scout leader sets up freshly made pancakes for her troop's maple syrup lesson at Connexion!

The Boil continued into Saturday, March 2 - the big public Boil Down event, where more than 600 visitors braved the cold drizzle to wander in and out to learn about the maple syrup process from start to finish. We’re excited to share this year that it got a brief inaugural mention in the Washington Post last week! Somerville’s annual pastoral community gathering that ushers in the change of seasons cannot happen without many hours of work from our dedicated part-time staff and dozens of enthusiastic volunteers. This is a true labor of love; read more about this volunteer and community-led project on our website.

Clockwise from Top Left: Stirring the boiling sap; adding sap to the evaporator; this Somerville couple had their second date at the Maple Boil - 14 years ago, and try to come back every year; lots of smiles at the Boil; finished bottles of syrup; and an SHS CTE Culinary Program student helps jar up and label the finished syrup.

Getting Involved (in More Ways than One)

Volunteer Orientations have begun! We held our first orientation of the season on Monday, March 25, where more than 25 new volunteers learned the ropes and got to meet our new Operations Manager, Bethany. See the full schedule of orientations on our Volunteer Page - and note, you don’t have to sign up in advance; you can just show up to one!

Our first Volunteer Orientation of the year, on March 25! We had 25 people in attendance. Thanks for coming out in the cold!

On Sunday, April 21, as part of our Strategic Planning initiative, we invite current, future, and past volunteers to come together at Connexion (149 Broadway, East Somerville) for a facilitated conversation on the Growing Center’s future, an opportunity for volunteers to share some of their thoughts and experiences, meet one another and get to know Bethany! More information here.

Interested in helping us continue our community-centered outreach and education, but don’t have a lot of time? Consider donating $30 toward our 30-30-30 Campaign, and help us reach our goal of $30,000 by the end of May, 2024!


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