The Ironwood residences and offices are nestled in 400 acres of private fields and woodland, surrounded by an extensive wildlife management area and game preserve. This combination of maintained and wild spaces beautifully supports each resident’s exploration of nature. The objective of the horticulture and environmental science program at Ironwood is to engage residents with their surroundings through gardening and woodland activities, and to teach them about nature so they may become more enlightened about their own personal nature and the nature of their family system.
Resident teens spend much of their time outdoors, especially in the first months of the program. Everyone helps maintain the property and gardens. Teens gain an intimate understanding of the power of place as they walk between activities, acquire wilderness life skills, and care for animals. On a daily basis, residents care for horses, dogs, cats, goats, and chickens. Teens love connecting with these critters and some become affectionately attached to a certain animal. Of course, while taking care of the animals, resident teens deepen their understanding of responsibility, compassion, and timeliness.
During the growing season, a large, intensively-managed vegetable garden and the landscape around our Victorian-era Farmhouse and outbuildings serve as our “classroom”. Residents learn the basics of raising food for themselves and endeavor to make their surroundings visually appealing. Through hands-on activities, resident teens learn about botany and plant propagation, soil science and composting, plant lore, and history. They learn about various aspects of entomology, including metamorphosis and the identification of common garden insects, both pests and beneficial ones.
Residents also gain an understanding of integrated pest management and landscape design. When teens actively enter the living cycle: planting a seed, cultivating the growing plant, harvesting the crop, storing or preparing it fresh for a delicious meal – they become empowered and connected to the world in previously unfathomable ways. Teens who used to balk at chores find themselves completely content with weeding a sunlit garden plot.
Resident teens also explore the intricate trail system of our 400-acre farm which abuts Frye Mountain, one of Maine’s premier wildlife management areas. Residents learn about forest ecosystems, wildlife biology, animal adaptations, forest resources, and the historic uses of our forest plants. They learn to identify Maine’s most common deciduous and coniferous trees and native woodland plants. They gain knowledge about basic meteorology. In the spring, teens tap our sugar maple trees and boil sap to create maple syrup.