When Margo Murphy became a Science teacher at the high school 15 years ago, she inherited a Botany class and a four season greenhouse located on a steep hill. Over time, she has been able to turn a mowing hazard for the ground crew into a series of terraced stone garden beds, wooden raised beds and an orchard nearby. One of the things she attributes to the success of the program is that the garden has been able to be dynamic and able to adapt to new demands. This year they will grow for the culinary program and the school kitchen.
Margo is still thinking ahead and working on ways for the school garden, greenhouse and orchard to sustain itself and carry on after she retires. She teaches a course offered in the spring that begins in late January which focuses on running a production greenhouse until mid May when it transitions to putting in the garden. Margo has been co-teaching the class the last few years to train another teacher, Sarah Mismash to take over. A second course offered in the fall focuses on harvesting, orchard maintenance and putting the garden to bed. Low enrollment has prevented that course from running in the past couple of years, but another school program, Rising Tide, has taken on that role.
Margo serves as the district’s Sustainability Coordinator and part of the work is to make sure the garden and orchard continue after she retires. One mechanism is the district’s strategic planning process which values outdoor learning and sustainability. Gardens require summer work so looking at partnerships and new ways of using staff time may provide some summer support. Although the garden currently focuses on plants that are harvested in the late summer and early fall to coincide with the school calendar, if there was the ability to preserve and store other types of food, this would provide new options for what could be grown. The greenhouse program has a very popular plant sale each year. Currently the plant and compost sale earns around $6000 annually. The income generated from this sale is used to pay students to work in the garden over the summer, as well as fund materials for the greenhouse and other sustainability projects.
Another big project is the composting system. The school system produces about 100 yards of compost each year by coordinating food waste from the elementary, middle and high school kitchens and cafeterias. Mark King from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) helped them design the composting system. This project is built into the freshman science program where each student has one week of compost duty during the school year. There is also a group of students that serve as compost managers. The school campus has lots of space and access to horse manure which are both important in this endeavor.
Plans for the future include upgrading fencing to prevent groundhogs and deer from getting into the garden, expanding the plant and compost sale to include projects from the innovation center, the Hatchery. The Hatchery focuses on radical reuse and builds items like chairs, tables and planters made from repurposed materials. There is a plan to redesign part of the garden to accommodate wheelchair use and expand the garden to encompass the entire sloped area.
There is also hope for a future partnership with Erickson Fields which is located across the road from the high school. This farm is part of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust landtrust property that includes Aldemere Farm. Erickson Fields is focused on growing food for food banks. They hire students and farm apprentices to grow abundant, high quality produce. They also have some community garden space. A partnership could help Erickson access students and benefit the high school by providing technical support and summer help.
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