From school basement to sunny yard: starting a garden on Frenchboro

Maren Granstrom
Posted 2015-09-08

Luke Milardo, the outgoing Island Fellow on Frenchboro, has spent the past year at the island’s school. He’s taught science, social studies, and after school programs in music, art, and outdoor exploration with the school’s two students. One of Luke’s proudest accomplishments, however, is an indoor community garden that he launched with the two girls and their families.

Luke’s first garden venture was in hydroponics—he built a water circulation system and worked with the students to plant greens. It didn’t work as well as expected, so he applied for several grants this winter and received enough funding to buy a grow light, compost, and organic seeds to start seedlings in the school basement.

Community volunteers came to the school this spring and taught the girls (and Luke) about planting. “The girls really took ownership over it,” Luke said. “They watered the plants every day, and they loved it. We measured the soil for planting depth, we had a nutrient solution and they measured parts of the solution to parts of water. They would get really excited about growing and learning how to garden.”

They planted seeds in early spring to have seedlings ready to go for the outdoor growing season. Island families collected the seedlings at a school event and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, flowers, greens, peas, herbs and squash in their home gardens, promising to save the seeds for next year.

Inspired by the success at school, the girls started their own indoor gardens at home, planting seeds in cups on the windowsills. They also got their parents to compost indoors over the winter. They families are now eating fresh produce all summer, and preserving food for the winter.

“Groceries are what you spend the most money on out here,” said Luke. “It requires taking your car on the ferry, and in the winter you have to stay in a hotel and buy enough groceries for two weeks. If you have produce out here, you wouldn’t really have to go. Everyone has big freezers, but you can’t freeze produce…you don’t want to eat a frozen salad.”

Luke discovered his own interest in growing plants, and learned how exciting it is for young students and families to find fun group projects (one of the girls’ fathers will keep the garden going next year). “It’s good thing for families, and for the whole community,” he said. “My hope is that it will continue in the future, and be a reason for people to get together. That there will be enough vegetables to bring to community potlucks. Of anything that I leave behind, this is the thing that I’m most proud of.”

Read Luke’s blog posts on the Frenchboro school website to hear more about planting seeds, the grow light, and the community plant giveaway.