FARMINGTON – Laura Hoeft is Franklin County’s School Garden Coach, in charge of the gardens at seven schools throughout the county.
Hoeft was hired back in August of 2020 by the Greater Franklin Food Council. At first, she split her time between four schools throughout Franklin County; her reach has since expanded to seven schools. They include Mallet and Cascade Brook Schools in RSU 9, all elementary schools in MSAD 58, as well as Stratton and Rangeley.
This is now the second year Hoeft has been employed as the School Garden Coach in Franklin County. Her position would have come to an end on July 31 of this year if not for two large grants that the GFFC recently received. The grants are through the Maine Community Foundation and the Onion Foundation. Her position is fully reliant on grants like these, as the GFFC does not have the funds to employ the position.
“The long range goal is that it becomes embedded in the school systems themselves,” Hoeft said. In the meantime, she will do her part to bridge the gap by collaborating with people at each school.
“I’m always encouraging staff to go out and explore and experiment and harvest and tend. It’s not like you can only be in the garden when it’s garden day.”
Hoeft works mainly with children in kindergarten through fifth grade and, at certain schools, middle schoolers. She goes to each school throughout the week, doing lessons with the kids. The lessons vary at different points of the year. In the spring, Hoeft teaches them about the parts of plants, soil, the importance of pollinators and planting. In the fall, when the harvest is ready, she moves into focusing on nutrition and healthy eating. The kids harvest the veggies with her, and they do taste tests and cooking lessons together.
Hoeft recognizes the importance of teaching kids how to understand and appreciate their food, and how to grow it themselves. She talked about how even despite the rural area, many kids still lack this knowledge about these aspects of food. As the school garden coach, she values her role in this aspect of education and the impact she can make on the kids’ lives.
“From a nutritional perspective it really develops a mindset for life,” Hoeft said. “They get to try new things that they’ve never tried before. They get to figure out where food comes from, how it grows.”
One issue that Hoeft runs into with the school gardens is the fact that schools are not in session for a large chunk of the gardening season. Although the majority of the harvest is ready when the students are back in school in the fall, there is harvesting to be done during the summer and it is work for more than one person.
“We encourage families and community members to help us out,” Hoeft said. “Managing all those gardens in summer when school is not in progress can be tricky.”
Hoeft asks volunteers to commit to just three or four days for one week during the peak of harvest season and, in return, they can take home whatever veggies are ready. To inquire about volunteering for the school gardens, reach out to Hoeft at email@example.com.