West High School greenhouse a teaching tool that also helps community blossom

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From left, Nathan Siller, Nathan Smith, teacher Mary Kate Hartwell, Annalyse Walsh and Daniel Cote on duty at West High School’s annual plant sale. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH –  West High School biology teacher Mary Kate Hartwell knows that the lessons learned inside her greenhouse classroom are priceless – even though on Friday, the plants were moving fast because the price was right.

The school’s annual plant sale provides $1 plants to anyone in the community who makes it over to the school when it’s time for the little seedlings to graduate from their little pots and take root in gardens around the city. At that price, anyone can look forward to an abundant harvest of tomato, cabbage, pepper, basil or watermelon.  And in this economy, that’s a real steal.

But there is so much more going on here.

On Friday Hartwell and her students took advantage of a shady spot facing just outside the school on North Main Street to sell as many little plants as possible.  What doesn’t sell will go to two community gardens – one in Manchester and the other in Concord. Teaching about sustainability begins with planting seeds; understanding the great value this skill has to any community while gaining a skillset is the lasting fruit of Hartwell’s labor.

“I started working here in 2015, and when I found out we had a greenhouse and we weren’t using we decided to start this environmental science class to start growing stuff and make things more sustainable here,” Hartwell said.

Since then the program has evolved beyond the annual plant sale.

“Now we are also working with the community –  on Monday the students are going up to Manchester Community Gardens to plant some of the stuff we grow and also Sycamore Gardens in Concord,” says Hartwell.

Manchester Community Garden started in 2018 and really took off during the pandemic as a place where people could be social at a distance while being productive and neighborly. Sycamore Gardens is an educational initiative that serves new Americans and those who struggle to make ends meet by having access to the garden which grows on land along public transportation routes.

“We grow tomatoes for Sycamore Gardens, so the kids are learning a lot about different plants and different communities – they will send me a list of what they want to grow, so there’s a little bit of culture in there, too. I didn’t know what an Asian eggplant was before, but now I do,” Hartwell says.  [For the record it looks a lot like any other eggplant only it’s longer and thinner and lighter in color.]

“It’s been a pretty good success for our school. Kids who don’t normally do so well in the classroom do very well here. They’re successful in growing and maintaining the plants and maintaining the gardens we have in the courtyard, so it’s really good,” Hartwell said.


About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!