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Horticulture & Environmental Science Program
The Ironwood residencies and offices are nestled in 500 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 the student'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 nature and the nature of their families.
Resident teens spend much of their time outside, especially in the first months of the program. Everyone helps maintain the property and gardens. Teens gain an intimate understanding of nature and the power of place as they walk in-between activities, build stone walls, forts, bridges and other structures, split firewood and build fire circles, and care for animals. On a daily basis, residents care for cats, dogs, horses, llamas, donkeys, chickens, and the occasional resident rabbits or pig. Teens love connecting with these critters – 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 Farm House and outbuildings serve as our classroom. Students 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. They 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 into a delicious meal – they become empowered and connected to the world in previously unfathomable ways. A teen who used to balk at chores finds themselves completely content with weeding a sunlit garden plot.
In the winter, resident teens explore the intricate trail system of our 500-acre farm, which abuts Frye Mountain, one of Maine's premier wildlife management areas. Students 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 March and April, teens tap our sugar maple trees and boil sap to create maple syrup.