School gardens located in Franklin County have benefited from the support of the Greater Franklin Food Council which has a mission to foster a robust food system in Western Maine by bringing people together to ensure access to nutritious food, promote local farmers, and advocate for food-related programs and policies that strengthen our communities. A working group called SING (Schools Integrating Nutrition and Gardening) was formed in the Spring of 2020 to promote school gardens and its members meet on a monthly basis during the school year to work on shared initiatives. SING has grown from a handful of hopeful members and 4 school gardens two years ago to 15-20 members representing 7 school gardens today!
Originally hired to manage 4 school gardens in Franklin County, in the Fall of 2020 School Garden Coach Laura Hoeft started visiting the Cascade Brook Elementary School. At last count, the elementary school had 273 students in grades 3 to 5 from 7 different towns! Laura’s position, which is completely grant funded, has grown in conjunction with the growth of the SING group as she now manages seven school garden programs. The Cascade Brooks School Garden in Farmington is one of the newest members of SING.
At Cascade Brook, the project began with relocating the raised beds from a former garden location (which had grown too shady) to its present location, where students who are headed to recess conveniently walk right by the school garden. The garden consists of 4 raised beds growing vegetables and herbs plus pumpkins and squash growing in the ground. One of these beds is ADA compliant so that it accommodates students in wheelchairs. It is planted with a sensory garden theme. A deer resistant fence goes around 3 sides with plants that repel pests growing on the 4th side along the sidewalk.
In the beginning, the after school garden program coincided with the Outdoor Club and Laura was able to offer programming for those students. She also was available during all 3 recess periods (1 for each grade level) but only had participation from 20-30 students out of 110 per grade.
In an effort to increase the participation of classes, she reviewed the program over the winter to figure out how to get more teachers and students involved. As a result, she successfully conducted classroom visits and soon had entire classes out in the garden for 45 minute lessons. Now in the second year of the program, the project is more well known, the students know her and are excited about gardening and the teachers are more interested in incorporating the school garden into their lesson planning. This past spring, 14 out of 16 teachers participated in the school garden project which was a huge success story! Plans for Fall 2022 are to build on the momentum from the spring by asking teachers for feedback of what worked and didn’t and take it from there.
Each year a Garden Poll is taken for what to plant in the school garden to give students a chance to pick what they want to grow. This spring an interest in growing peas initiated a talk about whether things would be harvested before the end of the school year. The most requested items by students to grow in the school garden this year were Carrots, Cucumbers, Potatoes, Lettuces and Flowers.
Without a hoop house or greenhouse area, students start seedlings indoors in April and store them on window sills, in the teachers lounge, the school library or just about anywhere in the school that they can accommodate seed trays! Students take care of them and transplant them into the school garden (with more seeds planted directly in the ground to ensure success!) when the time is right. A Seedling Fundraiser supplements the costs of the programs and is supported by the entire school community.
Over the summer, there is a Summer School program in July that Laura works with to utilize the garden as well as families that sign up to tend the garden for a week. Reminder emails are sent to the families who sign up and any vegetables ready during their week are theirs for the taking.
Laura’s future goals include having the garden seen by the teachers, students and community as another platform for learning for any lesson taught in a traditional indoor setting. She is an advocate of hands-on, non-traditional learning as there is much research around its level of success, especially with students who may otherwise be challenged in a classroom setting. She would also like to include the staff so they feel comfortable going in the garden whenever they want and using it too.
For more information, contact Laura Hoeft, GFFC School Garden Coach at email@example.com