Alvirne Community Garden Blooms

June 27, 2014

by Tom Tollefson

For most high school science teachers, hands-on science is cutting into a frog or measuring granules with a triple beam balance.  For long-time Alvirne science teacher John Hodgkins, his science class extends past the confines of the school building and into the real world life found in the Alvirne Community Garden behind the school barn.  Hodgkins has integrated caring for two of the 30 plots in the garden into his biology classes as he and his students take time to tend the garden.

“The focus is hands-on learning and applying what you learn in the classroom,” Hodgkins said.  “There’s been a big move in our culture to gardening and growing your own food.  We take it for granted that food comes from the grocery store.  It’s as much the learning process as it is how much did we harvest.  It’s nice to get a harvest, but the learning gets done along the way.”

The Alvirne Community Garden has been around for the last five years and was first begun by now retired Alvirne science teacher Phyllis Appler.  Before the current garden, Hodgkins took his students to a garden across the street from Alvirne High School on the other side of Route 102.  According to Hodgkins, the location made it difficult and dangerous to get to and take care of as a class.  “The safety of crossing the road and transporting large volumes of water in milk jugs made it difficult,” he explained.

Hodgkins noted that the current garden’s location makes it much easier to allow students access to it.  No longer do students need to transport jugs or buckets of water.  The current garden has hoses next to it.  Hodgkins and his students plant and water their two plots throughout the school year and even during the summer.  Alvirne Farm Manager Emory Nadeau also helps and turns the soil over every year.

Each year the students plant annuals (plants that complete an entire life cycle within a year).  The students choose the specific plants.  They plant annuals every spring, which die in the fall.  This gives them the ability to plant something totally new in the spring if they want to do so.  This season, students chose to plant potatoes, beans, chives, and dusty millers.

“The kids get to learn about putting down straw in the rows to keep down the weeds, they learn about how to plant the seeds.  They also learn from their mistakes and see what happens when you don’t water the plants enough.”

Some of the challenges have been figuring out how to protect the plants from bugs without using pesticides.  The students found Colorado potato beetles on some of their plants and decided to catch the bugs and feed them to the fish in Hodgkins’ classroom.

In addition to the two plots cared for by Alvirne students are 28 others taken care of by others in the community.  Each plot measures 10 feet by 30 feet and costs $25 a year in rent, and they are arranged in three rows of 10.

“What happens is you’ll meet people in your community.  You get to talking to people as you garden and share ideas and help each other out,” Hodgkins said.

Families that have relocated from Burundi (a country in Africa) to the local area also come to tend to a large plot of land provided for them next to the 30 plots for the community.  Many of them were first brought in to help by Appler through her social connections at Main Street Methodist Church in Nashua.

“They teach us a lot about cultural diversity, they demonstrate for us an appreciation of gardening with a purpose of providing food for the families,” Hodgkins explained.  “They exemplify a hard work ethic and we as a community try to provide support for cultures that have been uprooted from their homes and come to America for a new life.”

Anyone interested in renting a plot of the garden is welcome to email Suzanne Roark at