Islesboro Central School
     Horticulture Program
HOME PAGEUnique_Maine_Farms.html

Name:           Islesboro Central School

                      Horticulture Program

Address:       Ryan Martin

                      Islesboro Central School

                      159 Alumni Drive

                      Islesboro, Maine  04848

Phone:           207-734-2251


Facebook:     Islesboro Central School’s

                       Horticulture Program’s

                      Facebook page


Products and Services:

-horticultural program




-vegetable gardens

-ornamental gardens


-Master Gardener certification

What Makes Islesboro Central School’s Horticultural Program Unique?

There are several characteristics of the Islesboro Central School Horticulture Program that would qualify it to be named in a national “Top Ten List of Unique School Gardens.”  The school is a K-12 public school that is located in the beautiful twenty-five room seaside mansion formerly owned by Mrs. J.T. Atterbury.  It is situated in the Dark Harbor section of the island of Islesboro in Penobscot Bay.  The extensive gardening program that has been established at this Islesboro school includes greenhouses, covered raised beds, ornamental flowers, solar technology, vegetable production, a hydroponic operation, and an orchard.

The Islesboro Central School partnered with the Midcoast  School of Technology to offer an intensive horticulture vocational and technical program that includes an introduction to the science of plants and plant production.  The curriculum is totally accessed online.  Since all the assignments, lectures, and quizzes materialize through the use of a computer, students are very fortunate in being able to work independently on their lessons.  This arrangement provides many opportunities for the students to work in the greenhouses, gardens, and orchard on a regular basis.

Through another partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Islesboro Central School offers a Master Gardener’s certification for students. Teachers are trained to be able to use gardens and greenhouses as proficiency-based learning environments. This innovative program of Master Gardener certification at Islesboro Central School is the first program of its kind in the state of Maine.

Richard Kersbergen and Vina Lindley of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension organized a Science in the Garden training for teachers to visit Islesboro and learn more about the Master Gardener program for students on September 9, 2013. Unique Maine Farms was fortunate to be able to participate in this visit and training.  A group of educators gathered that day in Lincolnville and boarded the ferry for the three-mile ride to the island. They were transported in the school bus to the school.

Instructor Ryan Martin and student Ryan Murphy warmly welcomed all the educators.  Ryan Martin is the horticulture instructor at the Islesboro Central School.  In the first year of the horticulture program the Islesboro students concentrate on online coursework that focuses on topics relating to agriculture such as plant science, crop science, soil science, and botany.  There are many opportunities to work outside and the year ends with a Master Gardener written exam.  The students grow and produce as much as possible for a student-run market and earn the volunteer hours that are required for a Master Gardener certification.

In the first year that the Master Gardener certification option was offered, one-half of the students enrolled in the course passed the end-of-the-year comprehensive assessment.  Kudos for providing this opportunity for the students should be given to the efforts of Ryan Martin and to Mid-Coast School of Technology (which helps to support the horticultural program at the school), and to the Maine Cooperative Extension who provided the pathway for the Master Gardener proficiency to be achieved.

The Maine Cooperative Extension has proven to be an invaluable resource for individuals interested in agricultural pursuits.  In addition to embracing innovative gardening programs like the one offered on Islesboro, they conduct workshops, share advice, and help with such programs as Maine Harvest for Hunger, Food Corps, Kids Can Grow, Maine 4-H, and Maine AgrAbility.  They conduct research and are consulted for advice for farm animal health and farm management and safety concerns.  They are often the “go-to people” for nutrition, food safety, insect and pest management, food preservation, and composting. Unique Maine Farms is particularly grateful to the various Maine Cooperative Extension educators such as Ellie Libby, Frank Wertheim, Rick Kersbergen, Lani Carlson, and Vina Lindley who have been extremely helpful in providing information for various farm profiles included in this project.

Because of the Maine Cooperative Extension’s arrangement of a field trip to Islesboro, Maine educators were able to observe the hydroponics system in place in the Islesboro greenhouse.  They were also able to learn about the solar technology that was utilized in the farm shed with the pumping of the water for the hydroponics operation and the watering of the gardens.

Educators attending the training were able to meet Jonathan Erskine, the Food Services Director, who has fully embraced the idea of supporting the school garden program.  He cooks everything from scratch for the approximately one hundred students and staff that dine in the cafeteria at the school.  He spoke with the educators about how he not only uses the produce from the school garden, but also tries to incorporate the meat and other foods on the school menu from local Maine sources.  Almost one hundred percent of the food served in the Islesboro school cafeteria originates from Maine farms.

The organic produce raised at the school is used in the school lunch program and also sold at the school farm stand and at the local farmers’ market.  A new farm stand was recently constructed at the school.  It has a sink and a fridge.  The shelf  on the farm stand is able to be raised and the structure can be utilized as a backdrop to project outdoor movies!

An orchard is thriving at the school.  It was established in 2001, with funding from Maine Initiatives, Apple Parish Bartlett, the New England Grass Roots Environment Fund, and many volunteers from the community.  Former horticulture instructor John Pincince appreciated the advice that he received from John Bunker from Fedco Trees and Mark Phillips from New York to get the orchard up and running.  Because of the abundant deer population on the island, there has been a need to erect a fencing system around the orchard.

While deer have been discouraged from entering the extensive gardens at the Islesboro Central School, the students have been heartily welcomed to take part in all aspects of the garden.  They participate in planning the garden layout, ordering the seeds, tending the vegetables and fruits and flowers, harvesting, and preparing the produce for sale. Community members have also been welcome in the garden and have been appreciated for their support and many contributions to the gardens over the years.

The number of students enrolled in the Islesboro Central School is around one hundred.  Many would consider this quite low for a school which includes students from kindergarden through high school.  The school does welcome some students from the mainland through their magnet program. 

In addition to being a very impressive stone structure, the school has an extremely welcoming atmosphere.  It is quite fortuitous for students to attend a public school in a mansion building with absolutely stunning views of Penobscot Bay.  For a school with such a small enrollment that is located three miles away from the mainland in the middle of the bay, it certainly has been making some waves with its extensive horticultural program and its partnership with the Mid-Coast School of Technology and the Maine Cooperative Extension.  Hats off to all those involved in the very first offering of the Master Gardener certification to the horticulture students of a Maine school.

Ryan Martin and Jonathan Erskine, Food Services Director

Ryan Martin is the horticulture instructor at Islesboro Central School.

Richard Kersbergen and Vina Lindley helped to facilitate the Science in the Garden field trip for educators to Islesboro on Sept. 9, 2013.