How Does Your Garden Grow? Planting a Seed, Building a Bridge

Any inquiry starts with a question. In this case, Suzen Polk Hoffseth, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Millbridge Elementary School, wondered how she could tear down classroom walls and build bridges between her community and her students. She found that education and schooling were very isolating between teachers and students and their communities, but how she was able to build bridges between the two. Was it?

A local organization, Women for Healthy Rural Life (WHRL), had another question. With food so expensive, how can a family get fresh vegetables and healthy food?With community volunteers, they started her Incredible Edible Milbridge project. They built gardens on stilts all over town to grow vegetables of their own choosing. When Suzen heard about this project, she had an idea.

Suzen asked WHRL for two raised floors for the school. Community members came to the school to make them and talk to the students about soil and seeds. The students planted their own pumpkins. When the seedlings were ready, I went to the town garden to plant them. Suzen knew her little students would love to visit pumpkins for the summer. During those visits, their families saw all the other vegetables available for free. These visits helped gain buy-in from the community for incredible food and school gardening projects.

Since then, she and her students have learned about composting. They ate salads grown in raised beds. In the fall, the students found the last vegetables of the season and harvested them in the garden. Like little children, their unique perspective allows them to find hidden treasures. Students eat fresh beans and lettuce from the garden and take nutritious food home with them. Suzen says projects like this help students feel safe and welcome at school. When their minds are safe, they are ready to learn and find their place in the community.

Going into this project, Suzen admits she knew nothing about gardening or nutrition. She learned along the way through community partnerships like WHRL. They connected her to Maine Agriculture in the classroom and gave her funding for her professional development. With her administrative support, she wrote a grant to bring her students and their parents to a local farm. Many parents were surprised to learn that there were various farms nearby. They found increased access to nutritious, locally grown foods.

How will this project grow? Next month, the story-telling time zone for seedlings will begin. Here members of the community read gardening stories and do activities in kindergarten and her first grade class. Older students help younger students sow and tend. Of course, students bring new pumpkin seedlings to Millbridge Gardens in the spring.

For more information about the interdisciplinary teaching team, contact Kathy Bertini at or visit

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