A Farm and a Classroom: Minuteman High School Students Learn on the Land

A van from Minuteman High School with perennials ready to be planted. A student loading up a wheelbarrow.

This June, it wasn’t unusual to spot a group of high school students decked out with hats, work gloves, rakes, and secateurs, scattered throughout the perennial beds at the farm. Once or twice a week, hard-working horticulture students from Minuteman High School pulled up weeds, trimmed overgrown fruit trees, hauled wheelbarrows to the compost pile, and dug new plants into the ground. 

For the spring term they joined us to take part in one of our favorite activities at Gaining Ground: learning by doing.

“We haven’t been coming to the farm for very long, but even the kids have seen the transformation of the plantings since we first visited until now,” said horticulture teacher Sarah Ard. “That’s huge for them. And every time we visit we get to see the row crops and the students are like, ‘Oh, now the squash is coming in, now the peppers are coming in.’ It’s just really great.” 

Minuteman is a regional public technical education high school located in Lexington, which combines academic and technical learning for students from member towns in the area, which includes Concord. The school offers a horticulture and plant science program major where students prepare for careers in sustainable landscape horticulture, plant science, turf management, and greenhouse management. 

Students gathered in the garden. The garden after a semester of work.

In February, Sarah was seeking out new connections for the program—finding locations for field trips, new folks to serve as advisors to students, and farms where students could help out. Happily, her hunting led her to Gaining Ground, and she soon began work with Assistant Farm Manager Erin Espinosa to find opportunities at the farm for her students.

We met with Erin and on our first day took a tour of the farm, seeing what the farmers do and learning about it—the kids were really pumped about the overall mission of the farm,” said Sarah. “A lot of students don’t really understand that in communities like Concord and Lexington—and the surrounding towns that our school draws from—people face food insecurity. And that it’s even harder to get fresh food at a pantry. I think that learning that aspect of it has been eye-opening for them—and with rising food prices, they’re starting to talk about it more in their own homes.”

At Gaining Ground, in addition to learning about food insecurity, the students are also helping to manage the landscape of the farm—getting their hands dirty caring for plants, managing weeds, and planting up beds. After first tending our herb garden and cutting back some overgrown perennials, the Minuteman crew began work on the Welcome Garden. 

Students weeding a perennial bed. Sarah Ard instructing students.

“There were a lot of invasives that had moved in, so we first mostly worked on getting all of the bittersweet out and several other weeds. We have a 3,600-square-foot greenhouse of our own and had some leftover perennials from our big plant sale, so we started bringing those over and popping those in,” said Sarah. “We put in a few Russian sage, some newer varieties of coreopsis, veronica, poppies, lupin, and a newer lavender. A lot of pollinator-type plants, which are what we focused on for our perennial sale, so they work well for the garden.” 

The herb garden, perennial plantings, and Welcome Garden bring much-needed biodiversity and pollinator habitat to the farm, which supports the overall health and productivity of our vegetable beds. Moreover, the lovely blooms, scents, and textures in these plantings help make the farm a beautiful, comforting, and welcoming space for our farmers, volunteers, and visitors. Thanks to the impressive efforts of these thoughtful and hard-working students, these plantings are looking better than ever. 

We are immensely grateful to Sarah Ard and all of the dedicated students from the horticulture program at Minuteman High School. We look forward to welcoming them back to the farm for the fall semester. Gaining Ground relies on an incredible community of individuals and organizations in order to do the work we do, and we are proud to consider Minuteman among our extraordinary partners.

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