by Hazel Stark
Harrington-area teens are enjoying a week of “Teen Ag Camp,” run by Healthy Acadia at Narraguagus Jr/Sr High School this week. While students were building school garden beds and learning about agriculture and nutrition, they squeezed in some time for a Maine Outdoor School program focused on nutrient cycling!
Here at Maine Outdoor School, we believe the best role model out there is the natural world. When in doubt, look to nature to find a solution. During this program, these teens did just that by learning about nutrient cycling in the forest compared to human efforts in a garden.
They discussed how compost and worm castings help increase the nutrients in soil to help our garden plants grow with vigor. After a brief overview of photosynthesis and the nitrogen cycle, they went outside to compare the soil in the dry baseball field and the lush forest. They realized that the diversity of vigorous plants in the forest must mean that there were more nutrients present for all those plants to share, especially compared to the dry and uninviting soil in the baseball field. But how did those nutrients get into the forest soil? The presence of the FBI (fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates, that is) helping decompose leaf litter and other organics to transform them into nutrient-rich soil was a key factor. When we make a compost pile or a worm bin, we’re just mimicking what the forest does on its own.
So how is human and plant nutrition similar? These critical thinkers realized we both need a lot of the same things (air, water, and sugars), but most importantly, humans and plants both need a diversity of nutrients to thrive. A plant can live off nitrogen alone, just like we can’t live off sugars alone! These teens figured that out, but of course the forest knew that all along.